The Question Most Leaders Are Afraid to Ask
It’s like Kryptonite to otherwise bold leaders. (Kryptonite: A radioactive material that made Superman seek personal counseling.) This question is harder for most leaders than the perplexing questions of the ages. Questions like:
- What is truth?
- How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
- Should vegetarians eat animal crackers?
- If God sneezes, what do you say?
- If you are bald, what hair color do you put on your driver’s license?
No, this question is much harder. Want to hear it? Here it goes. I’m convinced that the question most leaders are afraid to ask is, How Am I Doing? It’s a hard question because it forces us to take a pause from our evaluation of others and take an honest look at ourselves. How Am I Doing?
Now, to get an honest answer to that question, you have to involve someone outside of yourself. Which brings up the real problem with that frightening question- Accountability. There are a number of different but closely related definitions of accountability, but let’s go with this one. Accountability is the willingness to hear who we are, where we are, and what we are doing. How am I doing? That is the accountability question.
What Is Your Real Condition?
Once or twice a year I get a complete physical. It’s not my favorite thing to do but it’s pretty close to the most important thing I do. After my physical, my primary physician sits down and goes over my numbers with me. Cholesterol. Blood pressure. PSA. He gives me a count….a count. Those numbers tell me how healthy I really am. Not how I feel about my health, but what’s actually happening with my health.
And in essence that is what accountability does. It gives you a count. It lets you know where you really are. It pushes you to look at your numbers. It forces you to face your real condition. Without these real numbers and this honest objective evaluation, we could think everything is fine, not realizing we are seriously ill. As it is with the body, so it is with leadership. We need honest evaluation.
What Are You Really Accomplishing?
It’s easy for leaders to lose focus. To get distracted from their primary responsibility or mission. It’s cliché, but it’s true- there is a temptation to work hard but not smart. This is often the case because there is no regular point of evaluation that reminds the leaders of their roles and responsibilities.
It seems to me that this idea of evaluation and accountability is easier for a younger generation to accept. For many leaders my age, evaluations have been punitive in the past and not redemptive, or at least that’s the perception. Past experiences notwithstanding, if you are not regularly asking the accountability question you might be doing a good work but not the right work. You could be doing a lot of things, but not the main thing.
Who Are Your Real Friends?
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The text speaks of the need for fellowship and community and accountability for us to reach our true potential. It also implies that the friction that comes from honest communication can be our salvation. That’s a real friend. Someone who will risk offending or upsetting us, to tell us the truth about us. This is the element that’s missing from the lives of many potentially great leaders. Honest, redemptive accountability. Someone or something that will be truthful with you- about you.
And frankly it gets harder to hear an honest voice the higher you ascend on the leadership ladder. I speak often about the leadership “echo chamber.” It’s when the only voices you hear are familiar voices. The more “important” you become, the more people you have around you who have a vested interest in you staying where you are. It might not be good for you but it’s great for them!
We need honest and effective evaluation and accountability. It reveals our real condition, it evaluates what we are really accomplishing, and it lets us know who our real friends are.
What do you think? Do you have friends like that? Are you being effectively and honestly evaluated at the job or church?