Three Questions You MUST Ask and Answer as a Leader

cliffhilton Blog, Lead Others, Lead Yourself

I imagine you’re reading this blog because you are curious. Maybe the word MUST got your attention and you saw this as an invitation, or perhaps a challenge, to see if my three questions really are that important. There are lots of questions you can ask as a leader, so what separates my three questions from the rest?

All I can say is that after 30+ years of leading in both the profit and non-profit sectors, for both large organizations and a small start-up, I know that all organizations, no matter who they are, must answer three questions effectively:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we going?
  • How are we going to get there?

These three simple questions are important because they provide direction for you and your organization. In fact, answering these questions is the first step in identifying your True North, but more on this in my next blog. For now, let’s dig in to understand why you MUST answer these three questions.

Who are we?

Three questions leaders must ask“Who are we?” helps you identify your unique reason for being. In order to be successful in business, you need to attract customers and stand out from the crowd. But if you don’t know who you are or how you are unique compared to other organizations, then how will you stay the course when challenges come your way? If your True North becomes a moving target based on the ebb and flow of change, you may find yourself lost, or even worse, you may fail. Use these questions to define “Who are we?”

  • Why did we come together as a team, group or organization?
  • What is unique about us? How are we different from all others who are attempting to do the same thing?
  • How do we want to accomplish our why? What are the values we never walk away from in accomplishing our why?

People always want to belong to something bigger than themselves and the answer to “Who are we?” provides the aspiration your team needs to follow you.

Where are we going?

Organizations are living organisms. Your organization is either growing or shrinking, alive or degenerating. How you answer the question “Where are we going?” impacts whether you are moving toward organizational life or death.

Use these questions to define where you’re going.

  • What are the most important goals we want to accomplish in the next 5 years?
  • How will we know when we accomplish them? What will success look like?
  • What roadblocks could stop us? What/who could get in our way?

The answers to these questions remind you and your team where you’re going and help keep you on the path to reaching your True North.

How are we going to get there?

Once you know who you are and where you’re going, your next step is to define how you will reach your True North. Answer these questions to establish how you’ll get there.

  • What short and mid-term goals must we set and build action plans around?
  • What resources do we need? And how will we address gaps?
    • Do we have the right people in the right seats?
    • Do we have our financial resources supporting the right things?
    • Do we have process and discipline around the most important things?
  • As things shift and change, how does it fit into who we are and where we are going?

Keep in mind that how you reach your destination will change over time, so it’s critical to always connect your “how” with “where you’re going.” And remember, with every decision, to always be consistent with “who you are.”

When I became President of KFC, we had drifted away from our true identity. We were trying a bunch of new products, like salads and roasted filets, which really weren’t aligned with who we are or who our customer was. The test markets were throwing things against the wall, hoping one of the new products would stick. After a period of failed test markets, we were forced to go back and remember who we were. We defined our True North (more of that in my next blog), and our True North became our focus. It was a journey to rediscover who we were, and once we did, it made all the difference. 

Keep this in mind: While “How we are going to get there?” changes frequently as you discover tactics to get to your True North, “Who are we?” and “Where are we going?” rarely changes because if you don’t remain constant to these things, you won’t make sustained progress. However, it’s easy to drift as you can see from my KFC example. KFC drifted a few degrees away from who we were and where we were going, and over time, we forgot our true identity. Learn from KFC’s mistake. Resist throwing new identities against the wall and hoping they stick. It’s so important to keep who you are and where you’re going top of mind all the time.

Answering the three questions takes time. It requires you to go slow now so you can go fast later. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone! In fact, inviting others to help shows humility and builds engagement with those who may join you on the journey. Not to mention that it takes some pressure off you having to provide all the answers!

This learning guide will help you answer the three questions every leader MUST ask and answer. Schedule some time to work through the guide. Then invite some trusted colleagues to share their thoughts on who you are, where you’re going and how you will get there. Be on the lookout for my next blog in this series: Why Identifying Your True North Makes You a More Effective Leader.

So, what do you think? Are these three MUST ask questions for leaders? If your answer is yes, then take time to pay it forward and share it with someone else. The minute it takes you to share this could make a long-term positive impact on someone else. Go Lead!

three questions leaders must ask and answer

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