Ever worked for a leader who left an indelible mark on your life? Chances are the reason you remember this person is because of how he or she made you feel.

Did he or she mentor you toward achieving personal success? Clear obstacles from your path? Stretch your growth? Provide you with all the resources you needed to do your best work?

Great leaders set the bar high for how teams should be motivated and engaged. The best of them operate with one overarching goal in mind: to serve the needs of those entrusted to their care.  

The 2 questions

While the journey toward leadership greatness never ends, it does have a starting point. It demands that you hold the mirror up to yourself by asking two bold questions:

When am I most effective?

When am I least effective?

This is what organizational change experts Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville advise in Harvard Business Review Leader's Handbook. They have distilled the best-proven ideas about leadership into a concise handbook that shows rising leaders how to have the most impact on their organizations. 

Impact in this sense means asking crucial questions to understand how your personal styles and habits shape how other people sed and work with you. Because to truly lead others well, you must first lead yourself well. 

'When am I most effective?'

To answer the first question, the authors suggest a self-analysis by simply asking others, "When do you think I'm at my best as a leader?" Then seeking specific examples where you've excelled as a leader.

As you listen and reflect on their answers, look for patterns that will confirm your most powerful actions as a leader. Do their views of your leadership approach or style align with your own perceptions as a leader? If not, where is the disconnect? What are you missing about a particular way you handled a task, strategy, or challenge that others found so helpful?

"Once you've identified patterns of actions that made you excel," state the authors, "ask yourself how you can perform those actions more regularly and deliberately."

'When am I least effective?'

On the flip side, and most daunting for a leader, is to humbly inquire about a time you behaved that was counterproductive for your followers. The authors suggest asking a question like:

  • What habits do I practice that may put people off, slow progress in a team, or lessen trust for our organization?

This is a question that has to be firmly embedded in your mindset every day. You may have to force people to be candid, however, since negative feedback is involved, or bring in third-parties to administer surveys or interviews.

But remind them that getting to the hard truths is mutually beneficial -- for your own growth, and for them to reap the benefits of you growing as a leader.

This is a hard prerequisite if you're willing to commit to the journey. But by asking yourself these two questions (especially the last one), you can open up a world of opportunities to make an immediate impact on people starting today.