Snow White and the Sev­en Dwarfs is a time­less fairy tale, and you may recall that one of the most mem­o­rable lines evolved from the orig­i­nal ver­sion (which has the envi­ous queen ques­tion­ing her look­ing-glass) into the phrase we know: “Mir­ror, Mir­ror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Giv­en the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the many mod­ern ver­sions of the tale, it’s not sur­pris­ing that “mir­ror, mir­ror” has been used for all kinds of assess­ments. I even found one tied to the Unit­ed Nations’ Glob­al Compact’s Self-Assess­ment Tool.

In this post, I’d like to prompt you to do some self-assess­ment on whether you are an entre­pre­neuri­al­ly mind­ed leader. In some cas­es, just ask­ing the fol­low­ing ques­tions is your first step toward mov­ing you and your firm toward a brighter future. How­ev­er, nat­u­ral­ly, only detailed answers to the fol­low­ing will put you on the right path. Ready, set, ask…

1. What emerg­ing prob­lems will my organ­i­sa­tion need to solve (soon­er rather than lat­er) in order to remain a leader in the eyes of our cus­tomers? Lead­ers encour­age telling organ­i­sa­tion­al per­for­mance appraisals before their inbox becomes filled with con­cerns and com­plaints from customers. 

2. Who in my organ­i­sa­tion should be work­ing on those prob­lems right now? Lead­ers realise that del­e­ga­tion is not only at the heart of get­ting things done, it’s also a won­der­ful tool to encour­age growth in high-tal­ent asso­ciates. Known prob­lems left unat­tend­ed will nev­er solve themselves.

3. What can our lead­er­ship team do to direct­ly sup­port this work and get the remain­der of the organ­i­sa­tion to pitch in where need­ed? Del­e­ga­tion is mean­ing­less unless the per­son tagged to solve the prob­lem has ade­quate resources. Don’t let some­one take on a big chal­lenge only to flail for lack of support.

4. How do I address cur­rent prob­lems while keep­ing the core organ­i­sa­tion run­ning at near-peak per­for­mance? Unless the prob­lems you face are capa­ble of shut­ting down your firm com­plete­ly (very, very rare), your job as a leader is to get the prob­lems attend­ed to while the rest of the oper­ates in an opti­mal fashion.

5. What are the top five fun­da­men­tal assump­tions about how our organ­i­sa­tion gets things done? This is a real test for most lead­ers. For exam­ple, con­sid­er the leader who assumed that all incom­ing orders were filled and shipped in 24 hours or less. When ques­tioned, all of his top-tier team mem­bers also oper­at­ed with that point of view. Then, they asked the next question.

Mirror on the wall6. How many of those assump­tions are either no longer true (or need mean­ing­ful mod­i­fi­ca­tion)? Many a leader has found that assum­ing some­thing is not the same as mea­sur­ing some­thing. Take the 24-hour turn­around time assumed to be the stan­dard with­in one enter­prise. When tracked care­ful­ly, it turned out that only a small minor­i­ty of orders were han­dled in that time­frame. Only with improved man­age­ment process­es did the assumed per­for­mance stan­dard become a reality.

7. How do I spend my time — and how does this impact my organ­i­sa­tion? Exec­u­tive coach­es often begin their work with lead­ers by cre­at­ing a time log of how sev­en 24-hour days are spent. That is, they want to know whether the lead­ers spent what pro­por­tion of their cal­en­dar in micro­manag­ing? social­is­ing? sur­vey­ing cus­tomers? sport­ing? strate­gic plan­ning? or ??? The pur­pose of mea­sur­ing the time pri­or­i­ties of lead­ers is that it is often a mod­el for how the rest of the top team mem­bers (and per­haps oth­ers) allo­cate their time. In terms of nextsens­ing, it is rare if not impos­si­ble to find a for­ward-think­ing com­pa­ny when the top lead­ers are not, them­selves, think­ing about the future.

8. What is it about my per­son­al allo­ca­tion of time (and the cor­re­spond­ing pri­or­i­ties it rep­re­sents) that needs to change — and change now? No one is per­fect. Every­one needs to grow in one way or anoth­er. If you want to become a bet­ter leader, you need to, first, define what that means and then, rapid­ly, reshape your pri­or­i­ties to that profile.

9. If our com­pa­ny could start over from scratch, what would be the first thing we would do? The weight of tra­di­tion (“we’ve always done it that way”) can be a won­der­ful thing. It can also be the biggest imped­i­ment to improv­ing an organ­i­sa­tion. Time spent with the top lead­er­ship team doing away with out­dat­ed tra­di­tions and out­mod­ed norms can be exact­ly the adren­a­line need­ed to stim­u­late a sag­ging enterprise.

10. If we had to replace five of our top 10 cus­tomers, how would I start? Fol­low­ing the 80/20 rule, lead­ers often find that a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of busi­ness often comes from a hand­ful of top cus­tomers. Sup­pos­ing those cus­tomers aban­doned your firm and took their busi­ness else­where? This can hap­pen (and does). Of course, you would nev­er want to encour­age this. What’s key, how­ev­er, is to prime your organ­i­sa­tion to be think­ing now about how to cul­ti­vate new cus­tomers with large sales poten­tial. Hap­pi­ly, such behav­iour often gen­er­ates new leads and new orders from new cus­tomers — mak­ing your firm that much stronger.

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