If you're like most business leaders, you spent much of 2009 feeling down and just about out--an often inescapable result of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Odds are, you grappled with many new challenges, uncertainties, and "don't want to, but have to" decisions. It was a difficult year--period.
Now, 2010 is here, and in the earliest days of the economic recovery, it's time to take the bull by the horns. Smart leaders will bypass the predictable New Year's resolutions and, instead, start '010 with 10 essential questions:
1. What matters most?
The good news is, there's no right or wrong answer. Yet, what was most important a year or two ago may not be the driving force in the business today. Press the reset button and, together with your leadership team, clarify priorities and commit to keeping them in focus.
2. What is one "problem" I can turn into an opportunity?
No need for rose-colored glasses--just view a current challenge through a lens of opportunity. Think about past successes in the business and figure out how to apply those skills to the issue at hand. Fact is, you grow by building on strengths, not "fixing" weaknesses.
3. What do employees need to hear from me?
Be careful about sending the message that you need people to hear. Think from your employees' point of view--if they don't feel understood, they won't listen to you anyway--and resist the urge to tell them how they "should" think or feel. Also, inspiration doesn't come only from motivational speeches to the masses. It should happen more informally, too.
4. What is our customers' greatest pain?
Be relentless about knowing and meeting that need. Skip the complicated surveys. Instead, pick up the phone and ask. Listen and understand first--then get busy offering solutions.
5. What new business relationships will I pursue?
New opportunities come from new relationships. Inside and outside your industry, seek out opportunities where there is potential for mutual benefit--not just "what's in it for me?" Remember, too, that even in these boom days of social media, significant business relationships begin with real dialogue--not a Tweet.
6. How will I be more strategic?
Skip the SWOT exercise. Strategic planning isn't an event--it's a discipline. Get serious about setting direction, always starting with a big-picture view of the possibilities. Resist the urge to discuss and deal with tactics until you're clear on what you want to accomplish. Even then, don't check strategy off your list--put it into daily practice.
7. How can I make swift yet smart decisions?
Now more than ever, you can't afford to overanalyze. Clear the clutter--the "mind clutter" that plagues even the best leaders--and make way for swift, smart decision-making. Hint: Slow down your thinking on the front end--during the planning process--so you can make faster and better decisions later.
8. What leadership skill can--and should--I get better at?
Fact is, your personal effectiveness affects the success of the business. Pick the leadership skill that most needs your attention--listening, coaching, or problem-solving, perhaps--and commit to improvement. Small changes really can make a big difference. Just ask your team and others on the receiving end.
9. How will I recognize success?
You won't know if the business is on the right path if you haven't determined some key markers or indicators. What's more, not all measures of success are quantitative, so consider how you'll know when a result "feels right."
10. What is my biggest fear, and how will I face it?
Name it--and claim it. If you don't, it can be damaging, even deadly, to you and the business. After all, what you resist, you empower. Own your fear--before it owns you--and decide how you'll confront it.
New year, new thinking. With smart leadership questions, you can find smart answers in 2010.
Gayle Lantz is a leadership expert and author of Take the Bull by the Horns: The Busy Leader's Action Guide to Growing Your Business...and Yourself (WorkMatters Press, $24.95). She is founder and president of WorkMatters, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to helping executives and leadership teams think and work smarter. Contact her on the Web at workmatters.com.