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Answer these 4 questions to become a better leader

The fourth question will tell you the difference between a good and great leader.

PETER FUDA: As a leader of any team or organization there are four questions that you really need to be able to answer in order to help your people achieve what's possible. The mediocre leaders will be able to answer two questions: where are we headed and what are we going to do to get there? Essentially they are able to articulate the vision question where are we headed and the strategy question what are our priorities, what are we going to do, what are we not going to do.

The good leaders will answer a third question. They will answer the how question. How are we going to be on this journey? Is it okay to achieve our objectives by any means necessary, Enron-style, or are we going to have some values and standards of behavior? Are we going to try and represent a particular kind of culture as we pursue these aspirations.

But the really great leaders answer a fourth question. They answer the question why. Why do we exist above and beyond making money? What is the unique contribution that we are here to make? Who would miss us if we were gone? So they answer the question of purpose for themselves, for their team and for their organization. And after 25 years of this work and five years of doctoral research one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty the why is the most important part of how we achieve anything. If we don't have a big why we won't get it done. In a world where we are competing for time, attention, resources, where you have a thousand inputs on any give day, busy people in our own world – if we don't have a big why we won't get it done and I'll give you a really simple analogy for it.

Let's imagine we have two 25-year-old women. Let's call them Mary and Joanna. Let's say they've both been smoking for five years and they decide their New Year's resolution is they're going to give up smoking once and for all. And our job is to figure out which one of them is more likely to achieve her goal. So the first thing we do typically is we go to Mary and we ask the really dumb question we ask in business which is Mary, what's your strategy. And Mary says I'm going to get a nicotine patch, chew nicotine gum, tear up my cigarettes and get a buddy. That's a pretty good strategy. And so then we go over to Joanna and we say Joanna, what's your strategy. And she says exactly the same thing – nicotine patch, nicotine gum, tear up my cigarettes and get a buddy. We're none the wiser and that's because we haven't asked the important question yet.

The important question is why and why now. It's not like you didn't know it wasn't healthy. And so we ask Mary why? Why now? And she says well, those ads on TV with the nicotine coming out of the artery, the tar coming out of the artery, it's disgusting. It's time to get fit and healthy. This is the year I'm going to do it. And we think I'm not sure that she's got the right, enough of a motive to get it done. Then we go over to Joanna and we ask Joanna do you want to give up smoking and why now. And she says I'll let you in on a little secret. I just found out I'm six weeks pregnant. Instantly we know that Joanna will give up smoking. Statistically that's true. The only difference – they have exactly the same what, they have a very different why. And that why is what carries us through particularly when we are being pulled in multiple directions.

  • The difference between mediocre, good, and great leaders lies in how they answer a few key questions regarding vision, intent, plans of action.
  • According to executive coach Peter Fuda, great leaders are not only able to answer the where, what, and how of a business plan, but they can also articulate why the business should exist beyond capitalistic goals.
  • All other things being equal, it's the motive that ultimately determines success or failure.


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