- Leaders are people who others are willing to follow.
- Leaders leverage their influence to help others accomplish goals.
- Leaders have a vision and understand the steps necessary to bring it to reality.
Those are all true, but one attribute seems to set apart really effective leadership: asking the right questions.
Leaders don’t need to have all the answers. If they are good at what they do, they lead a team that can come up with the answers together. Leaders cannot foresee every unintended consequence or hidden landmine waiting in their organization’s path, but their team may collectively have all the insight needed to chart the waters. This is particularly true when making major decisions that will impact many people.
There are six questions I think leaders should ask when making decisions. I have used these questions for about a decade in various ministries to make sure I understand the climate of an organization, the context of the decision, and have the ability to preempt problems before they can derail an otherwise successful strategy.
- What was done in the past?
No matter what you are looking to do, there is likely history that could inform your decision making process. If someone has tried something similar, their insight could be invaluable. If something similar has failed in the past, leaders need to know why before trying it again.
- How will this change make things better?
If this change won’t bring about improvement, perhaps it isn’t worth making. If the improvement is marginal, leaders need to evaluate the return on investment against potential challenges uncovered by the other five questions.
- Will this change have a negative impact on anyone?
It’s not enough to think through the pros and cons of a decision, leaders need to understand who will be affected by their actions and in what ways. If someone might be negatively affected, it may be wise to prepare them for the change ahead of time and even make them part of the process.
- Are there any unintended consequences that might come from this change?
This is where consulting a team really pays off. Work through scenarios and brainstorm potential problems.
- If we don't make this change right now, could there be negative consequences?
This question helps determine the urgency of the decision. If delaying the decision won’t cause any problems, it is almost always better to delay. With that said, one possible consequence of waiting is losing out on a great opportunity, so keep that in perspective.
- Could there be any benefits to making this change later?
Taking more time to make a decision can mitigate a lot of problems. Think of your organization like a large ship. When making a change of course, be sure you don’t turn too fast and cause people to jump ship.