4 Leadership Questions That Could Change Your Life

  1. Who are you when you are at your very best?
  1. Under what conditions do you thrive?
  1. What brings out the best in you?
  1. When you’ve been on top of your game, or in that magical “flow” in your career, what was going on?

Knowing the answers to these four questions could quite possibly change your life. Or at the very least, they’ll lead to significant insight. And if you want to be a leader people remember for the right reasons, you’ll want to know the answer to these questions for those you lead too. You have to know what brings out the best in people, what makes them tick, if you want to engender great performance in them.

Yes, the relentless pressure, endless tasks, meetings and deadlines makes it difficult to find time to get to know people. Asking questions like these seems like a luxury – one we just don’t have time for.

But knowing the unique strengths each person brings to your team, and what brings out the best in them (and ourselves for that matter), is one of the most important and effective things you can do as a leader.

Too often we look for what needs improving in those we lead, where they are falling down, their performance gaps, the sub-par aspects of their game.

Don’t get me wrong, managing non-performance is a critical role of a manager.

But what if our default position was to seek out, notice and focus on the strengths and the conditions that bring out the best in those we lead, rather than the more common critical eye?

A research study on onboarding produced some interesting results.

Most of the time, when people join an organisation, they are told on the first day how they are expected to act and receive a lecture on the company’s history. Then they learn about their job and are taught the processes and behaviours they need to master to be successful on the job.

While this one-way approach encourages productivity and controls what newcomers do (in the short term), it does not produce the most productive, innovative work environment in the long run.

Results from the study showed that a better approach is to ask that simple question: “Who are you when you are at your very best?” Behind this question lies a different philosophy of employment – one based on a psychological insight.

John Beshears and Francesca Gino said, “People have a built-in drive to do what they do best and to be recognised for it. This type of self-expression makes us feel authentic and alive. It also leads us to be more engaged, productive and committed to the organisation.”

What now?

My challenge to you this week is to ask those four questions above. Firstly of yourself (you might be surprised). And then, in a quiet moment, ask each of your team members the same questions.

For one week, focus primarily on the unique talents and strengths of each of those you lead, even those who may be in performance management situations. Shift your energy to one of positive awareness. Notice what people do well and thank them for those unique gifts they bring.

For one week, ditch judgement and take up gratitude.

We all have something to offer. We all are trying our best. We all have an inherent desire to do what we do best and be recognised for it.


  1. Bruce Maunsell on February 11, 2015 at 1:42 am

    Hi Suzie, a really good post. Those are questions I’m keen to explore from a personal point of view rather than as a team leader, or business owner. Can you suggest any reading on the subject.

    Best regards, Bruce.

    • Suzi McAlpine on February 12, 2015 at 5:55 am

      Thanks for your feedback. There are a lot of good books and articles on this subject. Here are a few:
      Wild Courage by Elle Harrison (my personal favourite)
      The Winners Bible (the title is a bit naff in my opinion) but a great book by Neuroscientist, Dr Kerry Spackman.
      The seminal Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
      True North by Bill George (more of a leadership lense).

      Im interested to know what others might recommend…

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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