I have had the opportunity to work with leaders from very different backgrounds, cultures and professions. Whether I work with a client one-on-one or facilitating a workshop, I have learned to take the time to ask simple questions. Before charging ahead into the unknown territory of “what can be,” it is critical to understand “what is.”
I have come to appreciate the value of establishing a shared foundation of knowledge, understanding and terminology. “What do you do?” “What does a normal work day look like for you?” “Who do you talk to on a regular basis, and who comes to talk to you?” “What do they ask for?” And, perhaps the most effective question – “and then?”
These are questions that ask for specific and objective information, meant to allow for minimum bias or judgment. Slowly but surely we arrive at a shared understanding of what leadership is, what it represents, how it functions, how it is effective and where the potential may lay.
This type of informal assessment can be supplemented with information from a formal leadership assessment, which provides additional insight on leadership strengths, preferences and development areas.
This assessment phase of any coaching or development process is critical. We are sketching a map of the surrounding landscape, and building rapport and understanding along the way. The resulting map is used to plot a destination we agree upon and the road we’ll have to travel to get there.
Why is this so important?
Imagine yourself left in a forest, without a map or compass. Which direction would you travel? Without a map of the terrain, does it matter which direction you go? How will you know if you are making headway, without knowing where you are in relation to your destination? How would you determine what your goal or destination should be?
And, if you were responsible for a group of people who trusted and depended on you, how would you make the right decisions and be able to convey them with credibility and confidence?
Peter Drucker famously stated that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Doing the right thing, traveling in the right direction, requires a good map. It requires knowing “what is” so that you can determine the proper “to be.”
Strong leaders are often celebrated for their accomplishments, for what they are or were able to accomplish or achieve. It’s therefore natural for leaders to focus significant time and energy on determining how to reach organizational goals related to budget, growth, development, and sustainability. In the absence of a good map, this journey can be arduous and a heavy burden to carry.
Do you have a map? How do you define your leadership?
The truth is that no one can define your leadership. Nobody but you.