I often get hired to fix people. Fix them individually, fix their groups, fix their behavior, attitudes, and, ultimately, improve their output. I get hired by senior managers to fix the problems below them. Based on my experience as an employee in small, medium, and large organizations, and these days as an unbiased outsider, my conclusion is that it is often the leaders themselves who need the repair job, and who could most benefit from self-reflection.

A critical success factor for leading any group of people is the willingness and ability to engage in self-reflection, to honestly and courageously ask yourself “how am I contributing to this situation?” Even for the enlightened leaders, the questions asked are often more like “how can I support my people through their development, enlightenment, change?” “What could I be doing different to facilitate their progress and growth?”

The bottom line is that you are contributing, like it or not. No grey area here. The question is how. Ask yourself honestly, candidly: “how am I contributing to this situation?”

Are you enabling your own beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, judgments, and success ideology to limit your understanding of those you lead? Have you ever said any of the following statements?

“Well, when I was in that position….” “This is what motivates people….it motivated me!” “They’re just whining!” “They don’t understand the big picture!”

Having a growth focused, open mindset, and the courage to look within and do the hard work of self-reflection is the ultimate opportunity to be a great leader.

When you look outward, first look inward and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I made it crystal clear what is expected of the individual/team?
  • Have I shared my goals and challenges? Do I share the big picture?
  • Have I ensured adequate resources are in place?
  • Have I cultivated a learning environment where curiosity and sharing is encouraged?
  • Have I provided timely and constructive feedback on a regular basis?
  • Have I secured the most appropriate training and coaching for the required skills?
  • Have I created a safe environment to fail, to learn, to grow?
  • Have I checked in to see what motivates others?
  • Have I sought regular feedback for myself and other senior leaders?
  • Do my actions line up with my words? Am I walking the talk?
  • Is my finger always pointed outward, or do I take responsibility for the situation?
  • Do I make time for my people? Am I accessible and present when they need me?
  • Do I facilitate development through meaningful dialogue, coaching, and support?

These are some of the important questions leaders must ask themselves.

If you’re going to spend time and money away from interacting with customers to focus on your team, you must also focus on self-reflection. You must have regular, meaningful conversations. You must engage and energize your people to collaborate and discuss new ways of approaching challenges and opportunities. You must ensure there is a platform for sustainable connection and accountability, not just a few times a year.

In fact, it is critical that you take time away from tactical activities that “drive your business” and invest time, money, and energy in the real stuff—the foundational aspects upon which everything else is built. The data continues to emerge showing the profound impact this deeper work can have on the bottom line. So, where one may see an either/or scenario, in fact, the two are directly and intricately connected. It has been proven that leaders who take the time to invest in their people get better results. Employee engagement impacts any other key performance indicator you care to measure. And that is good for business.

Research conducted by Gallup has proved that organizations with high levels of employee engagement report 22% higher productivity. In addition to this, strong employee engagement can provide a number of positive outcomes for the employees and customers.

  • Highly engaged organizations have double the rate of success than those that are lowly engaged.
  • Engaged employees see the connection between day-to-day work and the larger mission of the organization.
  • The employees are attentive and vigilant.
  • Lower absenteeism and turnover.
  • Improvement in quality of work and health.
  • Fewer safety incidents.

When employees feel connected to organizations, they are more involved and productive

However, engagement can be difficult to measure, as it often means different things to different people. The goal for leaders is to inspire their employees to do their best work. Leaders need to create a culture that inspires, empowers, and engages, enabling the best work to emerge.

I recently read a terrific article by Stacey Barr: Can you prove how well your organization is performing? She articulates the risk leaders take when they fear transparency, and remain willfully ignorant to their contribution to the culture of the organization. The concept of “gaming” emerges as the way leaders can leverage confirmation bias in a company, by finding what they want to find, and seeing what they want to see. Ultimately, nothing changes and performance continues to stagnate, or worse.

Be honest with yourself. Spend some time engaged in self-reflection. Check in with your self-talk. Recognize the power of influence when you let go the need to control. Attend training meetings with your people. Engage in follow up discussions. Listen to what they tell you and collaborate to explore new solutions. Commit to the coaching sessions in your calendar (the leaders are often the ones who cancel coaching regularly – “just too busy!”). Make time to make your leadership development a priority.

Make it a priority to support your employees and cultivate true connection, and do the self-reflection required to model this behavior to your team. Empower them to access and leverage the best in themselves and each other. Take it seriously. If you don’t have time for it, you don’t have time for maximizing results, productivity, efficiency, innovation, stability, and growth in your organization.

As the saying goes, be the change you want to see. It starts at the top.