Leadership Questions Need to Come from the Inside


    Management consulting hero Peter Drucker understood where he fit in the business ecosystem. He knew his job wasn't to provide answers, but to ask better questions. Because the answers have to come from the business itself and not by an outsider.

    An outsider can provide perspective, help put things in a new light, help us look at them from a different angle, expand options. If we hire the right outsider based on the kind of challenge we face. Which is why it's a very good idea to: a./ be super clear about the real nature of the challenge (the cause); so that b./ we can figure out what kind of skill sets we need to apply toward solving the problem.

    Too often, we buy a tactical implementation on one end of the spectrum, or a shiny object on the other.

    In the first case, we are treating the symptoms rather than the cause which is why we should heed Albert Einstein's advice, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

    In the second we're looking for something outside the problem in hope it will fix it or as Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” 

    Whether we're leaders in large organizations, small companies, our own business, or a business by others, our value comes from addressing core questions. By this definition, we all lead in one way or another right from where we sit. There is always someone looking to us for answers. At the same time, we need to keep looking for ways inside ourselves to get better at providing them.

    While the mission defines the fundamental purpose of an organization and how it achieves what it set out to do, it is the vision that defines the way an organization or enterprise will look in the future. The vision should reflect where the business intends to go.

    Do we have a vision for the business? As in “we're here,” and “we want to be over there.” Culture has a role in influencing how we make decisions to close the gap between now and then. We have a personal culture as well, and like organizations, we draw from it to support and empower us in our choices.

    Culture shows up in the choices we make when we're alone, but also when in a crowd where social pressure may influence us. The degree to which it sways us depends on our vision. Vision is also personal, and it mostly tells us “who we want to be.” Sometimes we confuse this with “where we want to be.”

    So we don't work on the right things—we focus more on more polished ways to ask something, rather than how we can bring our skills and experience to a problem so we can ask better questions. Which means we often neglect to design to the way things are now, and may miss the problem entirely. It's about it, not us. But the way we provide value is by continually upgrading ourselves.

    One of the many wise things Drucker said was that working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective. Half of the battle is managing ourselves. How we go about deciding where to place value, both on our activities and what we let into our lives says a lot about our values.


Still curious? Find out why aligning value with values matters.