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5 questions every leader should ask themselves

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The renowned Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian said, “A good coach will make his players see what they can become, not what they are.” In other words, the most effective leaders see potential in the people around them — and nurture it.

An excellent way to lead and inspire others is to ask simple, direct questions. Greater clarity helps people direct their energy in ways that make them more effective, motivated and satisfied.

The questions below can be particularly helpful in this process.  

But there’s a crucial ingredient in this advice. You are, first and foremost, a role model. So, before asking others these questions, start with yourself.

The Questions

Here are 5 questions designed to help you nurture your potential while bringing out the best in the people around you.

Questions 1 and 2: Who are you? Who do you want to be? 

Clear answers to these questions provide a foundation and trajectory for your life. With this clarity, you know what to delegate and where to allocate your finite time and energy. If you cannot answer this clearly, you may feel stuck or demotivated, and you’re susceptible to following someone else’s agenda.

Question 3: How can you improve the world? 

Develop a succinct answer, then get to work bringing it to life. And if you have children, ask them this empowering question too. The secret: believing you actually can improve the world.

My friend Dan Berlin went blind in his 30s from a degenerative eye disease. As he lost his eyesight, he lost his independence and ability to see his children’s faces. But rather than fall into despair, he profoundly shifted his thinking, focusing on his ability rather than his disability.

With the help of a guide, Dan became a marathoner, then started taking on even greater physical challenges. He organized the first-ever team of blind cyclists to complete the 3,100-mile Race Across America, which has become the subject of an upcoming feature-length documentary film called “Surpassing Sight.”

Building on a series of endurance challenges around the world, Dan founded the non-profit organization Team See Possibilities, providing scholarships and mentoring to college students with vision impairment. He challenges these scholars to set ambitious goals despite their disabilities.

Dan Berlin turned his tragedy into a profoundly positive impact on this world. What can you do?  

Question 4: How can your job provide both money and vitality?

Many people believe that paying the bills and living life to its fullest are incompatible. For many, that is true. But it doesn’t have to be. The key is to identify your sparks of vitality, then do the hard work of building a profession around those sparks.

Start by making a list of things that excite and intimidate you. If something excites you, it generates positive energy. And if something intimidates you, it can push you to learn and grow.

This combination is the secret to vitality. Look for or create a profession that is closely aligned with your sources of vitality. The more vitality you have, the more you will attract others to join you and help.

Want a challenge? Try to structure your day so that you spend 90% of your energy on things you are good at, find meaningful and enjoy doing.

5. What is the story you want to tell with your life?

Humans grow up on myths, fables and homilies. Our lives are full of narratives we tell, some of which are closer to objective facts than others.

Sometimes our stories crash up against the harsh truths of the “real world,” and we are forced to re-write them. As you answer this question, remember that you are the author. Identify which stories serve you, and which ones don’t, because your answer can trap or liberate you.

These 5 questions can help you lead and inspire others:

  1. Who are you? (lays the foundation)
  2. Who do you want to be? (provides the trajectory)
  3. How can you improve the world? (gives you focus)
  4. How can your job provide both money and vitality? (generates positive energy)
  5. What is the story you want to tell with your life? (creates a narrative you can use to extract yourself from self-limiting beliefs while inviting others to contribute to and benefit from your journey) 

The Work of a Lifetime 

Your answers to these 5 questions represent the work of a lifetime, so return to them regularly. The greater clarity you have about yourself, the greater your ability to lead others by example. And by continually doing the hard work of bringing your unique self to life, you give people around you a profound gift: inspiration to do the same.

This article was originally featured in the Vistage Research Centre.

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