I had another birthday this month. If nothing else, my fifty-six years on Planet Earth have taught me the wisdom and value of preventing problems before they happen. So after my annual physical examination last week, I headed straight to my dentist for a checkup. On my way home, I stole a quick peek at my car’s odometer noting that in another 1,700 miles an oil change will be due.
In life and work, I’ve found it’s far better to catch and correct problems while they’re still small and manageable. Unnecessary delays offer opportunities for rather simple problems to morph into bigger challenges requiring more time, effort and resources to correct.
Think about it: Shouldn’t leaders work to prevent problems before they happen? Like my doctor, my dentist and my mechanic, leaders should realize that preventive leadership questions and corresponding actions require a fraction of the cost, time and stress that would be realized if these same questions and issues were left unasked and unattended. In his groundbreaking work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey reminded us to “begin with the end in mind.” Rather than waiting, hoping and praying that some leadership problem won’t materialize, preventive leaders initiate preemptive strategies designed to negate problems at the outset.
As I write in my new book, Leaders Ought To Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership, “Preventive leaders ask ‘why’ then apply that information to activities like team building, problem solving and decision making.” Here is an example to get you thinking. Ask an employee a “why” question, like “Why are you delaying a decision on this project which may impact the fulfillment deadline?” Then go beyond the “why” and ask, “Why not have your managers submit weekly project updates to inform your decision?”
And while we’re thinking about prevention, here are four questions smart leaders should ask to prevent their own leadership problems.
1. How am I doing?
2. What have I messed up lately?
3. What should I be doing better?
4. What would you like me to do about that situation?
Don’t wait until there’s a leadership breakdown — prevent it before it happens! This preventive process could add miles of trouble-free performance to your personal leadership efforts.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership