Whether you're new to leadership or have been in that role for decades, self-reflection is a crucial part of the job. It's an easy thing to forget and procrastinate, especially as much bigger and seemingly more important issues are constantly demanding your attention.
However, you can't just trust your board or colleagues to keep you accountable. For one thing, if you have shareholders, they typically just look at the numbers and the bottom line to determine your leadership skills. As for colleagues and staff, you'll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people willing to come forward and tell you what you don't want to hear.
That means you have to actively keep yourself in check. My favorite time to do this is when I'm traveling. Once I'm airborne, I purposely don't connect to the wifi. I use this time to reflect on what kind of leader I am, the areas I can improve, and ways to get better.
To avoid bias as much as possible, ask yourself three key questions to gauge if you've fallen off track.
1. When was the last time you admitted you made a mistake?
Drawing a blank? Red flag. The best leaders practice humility. They're not afraid to make mistakes, and when they do, they own up to them. More importantly, they learn from them.
You'll be a lot more relatable and inspirational if your staff feel they work for someone who doesn't think they're always right, or worse--blames everyone else when something goes wrong.
When you're the owner of a company, there's no such thing as scapegoats. Look in the mirror, because it's you. If something goes wrong, you'll be the first one to get the blame. Unfortunately, taking the heat comes with the territory. This is when leaders really shine or fall from grace.
By setting the example, you'll cultivate a culture where people aren't afraid to take calculated risks, own their outcomes, and learn from them.
2. How many difficult conversations did you have in the past year?
Being in charge comes with a lot of perks. It also comes with its fair share of I-hate-my-job moments. That means firing people, laying people off, telling people they're doing a bad job, and delivering bad news to your shareholders.
The most successful companies are typically putting out fires every day (if not every hour). So don't kid yourself that things have just been so perfect that you haven't felt the need. If that's the case, then you're clearly not paying attention, you're living in denial, and/or you're avoiding confrontation at all costs. All signs of bad leadership.
3. Who was the last person you praised for doing a great job?
I really hope the answer to this question isn't yourself. If you're not thanking, congratulating, or calling out someone for doing a great job or going above and beyond the call of duty, then you need to open your eyes and pay attention. Why would anyone want to work in a thankless job?
An amazing thing happens when you give someone props for performing well; they want to keep performing well. In fact, they typically want to do even better. Whether it's the summer interns or the senior staff, find out who's doing what and actively thank them for it.
There's no denying leadership is hard. Not everyone is cut out for the role. It can be lonely, thankless, and defeating. Needless to say, it takes a certain kind of person who is willing to take on the responsibility, stress, and pressure that come with the job.
So while it's important to keep yourself in check, it's also worth cutting yourself some slack if you do make a mistake. We all have things to work on, which is why the best leaders recognize that being in charge is a lifelong journey of learning, perseverance, and self-reflection.