The Power Of the Leadership Inquiry: How To Reinvent & Reenergize Your New Year’s Resolutions & Personal Goals For Accelerated Leadership Development
How to use a cutting-edge, brain-based approach for reframing your New Year's Resolutions and personal leadership goals to unlock accelerated (and appropriate) leadership development—by tapping into your innate curiosity, creativity, and potential for growth.
It’s the time of year when we set goals for ourselves as leaders and entrepreneurs.
Often these goals and resolutions simply become more fuel on the fire of self-criticism and judgment. Or they may be wishful thinking and not based in reality. Often they can be things we think we should be or do rather than growth and expansion that is appropriate to who we are, where we have arrived at, and the state of our business or project.
The biggest danger with goals and resolutions is that they bring us into the wrong “mode” for personal growth and leadership development [you can read more about the modes we use and teach leaders in this piece I wrote for Duke Business School’s magazine]. We want to be in Create & Connect Mode much of the time to accelerate our leadership development, not the adrenaline- and dopamine-fuelled intensities of Control & Protect Mode that we use to get stuff done each day.
The last thing most of us need is more KPIs by which we can demand more from ourselves. This does not mean we are giving up on the discipline and grit that leadership development means. It is more about reinventing the very notion of goals and resolutions in a way that unlocks awareness, insight, and transformation through discipline and grit.
One great hack is to reframe a leadership goal or New Year resolution as a “leadership inquiry.” This means shifting a goal or commitment into a subject or topic—in the form of a question—that is pertinent to your current state and stage of leadership development and which can help you unlock the next stage of growth through your work and efforts during the year ahead.
By setting up a question and not a target, we trigger the curiosity and intrigue that is one of the greatest assets of Create & Connect Mode and avoid the criticism, judgment, perfectionism, and constant frustration that is common in the performative Control & Protect Mode (which, in most of us, has been itself perfected by decades of school, college, and management focused on pleasing others.)
A leadership inquiry is a starting point for your year of growth and development as a leader through which you can “live the questions now,” as the poet and philosopher Rainer Maria Rilke stated in his famous Letter To A Young Poet. [You may be interested to read this essay in which I riff on the theme within a Letter to All Philosophers.]
I you’d like to amplify and accelerate your growth using the best available hacks—boosting curiosity and commitment as well as self-compassion,) I invite you to spend an hour, on two separate occasions in the coming two weeks, to explore and define a leadership inquiry for you for 2024.
If you take on this challenge, I urge you not to make it yet another way to be perfect. The exact question you arrive at is less important than the work of exploring the territory of the inquiry. Plans are useless. Planning is everything.
Once you have the area in which you want to be most curious and unlock most of your potential, you can formally set it as the subject of a leadership inquiry and invite all your faculties (conscious and non-conscious) to work on it, explore it, question it, love it, and live it fully for this year.
Having a leadership inquiry to focus on can change the feeling of expectations to explorations, of aims to adventures, of problems to possibilities without losing discipline. This can open up a very different path of leadership expansion.
This must of course be a question that arises from the unique challenges you face (company dynamics, market headwinds, personal issues etc.), what you broke through or struggled with last year, and your specific role, strategy, and industry.
Remember: no leader’s leadership inquiry is any better or worse than any others. They are apples and kumquats and cannot be compared. They are unprecedented as nobody has ever been you, with your leadership and business challenges to break through, in the history of the world.
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Here are some starter questions to ask and answer as you inquire into your leadership inquiry for 2024. And please do reach out in a year if this has been helpful and let me know what unfolded and what potential was realized.
- What is the greatest business or market challenge you face this year that you must metabolize into value (ideas, opportunities, offerings) to flourish as a leader?
- What could be the core leadership capability within you that may need to strengthen and deepen to metabolize that problem into creative possibilities?
- What is the stage your main product, project, or org is at within the business cycle and what might this invite from you?
- Which of the “big questions” of life could you attempt to answer with your work this year? (Why am I here? What is the point of living? Why does my company/role exist? What is my leadership legacy? Etc.)
- What does your purpose tell you is the logical next step in your expansion into wholeness?
- What could be the next stage of unfolding of your project, product, or business as it expands and deepens its purpose? What leadership capabilities might this require you to embody?
- If nature wanted you to evolve to the next stage of your development as a leader, what area might you want to have a breakthrough in?
- Where do you consistently feel a loss of power, inner peace, or emotional stability in your work? Are there any themes you can see that are common to your current areas of ‘collapse’?
- What words or images (or memes, metaphors, and movie plotlines) have been bubbling to the surface in your everyday life that, if you reflect on why they have caught your attention, might feel meaningful or important for your development as a leader?
- What might the wisest leader in the world suggest you focus your growth on this year?
- If you could crack a gnarly existential challenge through your leadership growth that would then benefit your team (and family/friends), what might it be?
- What is seeking to emerge as growth, newness, and renewal from the relationship between you and your work?
- What is seeking to emerge as growth, newness, and renewal from the relationship between you and your team/customers/partners?
- What blockers is your business strategy designed to unblock and which of them is most challenging for you to deliver on?
- What is your business vision and, if it were fully realized, who would you have had to become as a leader to make it happen?
- What is calling you towards a moment of grief—a loss that you have not yet fully processed, whether a loss of status, stability, or certainty, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a cherished aspect of your career or role—that might unlock regeneration and renewal?
Please don’t feel the need to go through all these questions. I would suggest reading them through quickly and choosing one to dwell on that connects with you—either with your mind or your gut. It could become the inquiry itself in some way.
To be vulnerable, candid, and transparent: my leadership inquiry for 2024 is something like this. It leverages a metaphor that seems to encapsulate what my business, my purpose, and my leadership potential are all inviting me to become this year. Inquiries tend to be, in some way need to be, on the cutting-edge, the leadership edge, of your own becoming.
The metaphor came to me in the last couple of weeks after reading an article and watching a documentary on the topic: What would it be like to become more like the leader of a big band orchestra (think Duke Ellington) rather than the leader of a quartet… ?
As I inquire into this question, and feel what capabilities it may require me to develop, strengthen, and embody—and what outdated ideas, beliefs, and behaviors I may need to relinquish—I wish you a grand adventure discovering, and living, your own question.
If you want more support to reflect on your path as a leader, try this free Transformational Leadership Starter Kit.