Inside Questions Create Internal Alignment©

One of the most critical tools of the conscious and self-reflective leader is the willingness to continually go inside for answers and learning opportunities, no matter what the circumstance, situation or perceived cause. Conscious leaders embrace internal questions, ones they repeatedly ask of themselves when things go well, when things go poorly and when things are unclear, including the following:

  • In what way could I have done things differently?
  • In what ways could I have been different?
  • What can I learn about myself from this situation?
  • What were the internal drivers (emotions, stories, perspectives, attitudes, beliefs, etc.) that drove or supported my decisions, choices or actions?

Armed with these answers (involving internal truth-telling and often requiring going to deeper layers than the first, second or even third answer), the umbrella question that conscious leaders ask is this: Were my decisions, drivers, choices and actions in alignment with who I am choosing to be as a person and as a leader?

Conscious leaders not only rely on their own self-reflection and assessment, but they also proactively seek out and encourage direct and honest feedback from others. They ask for feedback and they really mean it. Talk about a new way of being a leader!

Too often in current leadership models, leaders focus their questions outward and on others. They learn to use questions as a powerful leadership tool to help others become better in their roles, but they do not frequently turn the questions on themselves. The unconscious leader is satisfied with outwardly-directed questions because it lets them off the hook and allows them to blame others for circumstances and outcomes.

The unconscious leader that does ask internal questions also often asks the wrong questions. For example, a typical inside question of an unconscious leader is, “How did I do?” which is nothing more than a quick and superficial check-in, dealing only with the effectiveness of one leadership situation. It is the rare and conscious leader that has a compelling desire to grow as a person, not just as a leader. The conscious leader recognizes that their personal growth will be the greatest driver of their leadership growth.

The following is an example of a conscious leader’s approach to a communication disconnect. An organizational leader and one of his managers had experienced a significant miscommunication – one that had a negative impact on the business. It was not a catastrophic impact, but it was certainly one they did not want to occur in the future. When the leader and manager convened to discuss the miscommunication, the manager quickly took full responsibility for it. Notably, this was not a situation where the manager was “falling on her sword” and taking the blame. The manager truly believed that her poor communication had caused the problem. In this situation, the unconscious (but perhaps good) leader would typically support and encourage the manager for taking responsibility and help her (perhaps mentor her) in order to make her a better communicator for the future. This is today’s model of a good leader.

In this case, however, the conscious leader did all of the above and took the additional self-reflective step of asking the manager, “What could I have done differently (or do differently in the future) to avoid or minimize the miscommunication?” The manager insisted that she was responsible for the miscommunication, but the conscious leader knew that communication is a two-way process and wanted to ensure that the solution for the future was not solely dependent on the manager changing her communication or behavior. This and / both thinking allows conscious leaders to create an environment where responsibility and solutions are co-owned. Conscious leaders know that having more people committed to heightened awareness, corrections and solutions will enhance the likelihood, sustainability and predictability of the change. This mindset also models self-reflection and collaborative assessment for others, as well as a level of personal responsibility and accountability that is rare in many leaders.

When faced with outcomes that are neither intended nor desired, the conscious leader insists on going within themselves for answers, change opportunities and personal growth, even if the circumstances suggest that such self-assessment is neither called for nor necessary. This unique mindset – always looking inside even if outside circumstances don’t require the inside look – is one way that leaders accelerate their influence, which is what leadership is ultimately about. Are you willing to go inside to create impact outside?

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