Welcome to 2015! I usually don’t make a big deal about the New Year. I’m lucky if I’m able to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. However, at this time of year, I do get a bit contemplative and have gotten into the habit of reviewing the previous year, refocusing my life, and creating some goals for the year ahead.

During my preparation, I came across a classic article in Harvard Business Review by Robert S. Kaplan entitled “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror”. He begins the article by describing a reality to which I can relate for both myself and many of my clients.

“If you’re like most successful leaders, you were, in the early stages of your career, given plenty of guidance and support. You were closely monitored, coached, and mentored. But as you moved up the ladder, the sources of honest and useful feedback became fewer, and after a certain point, you were pretty much on your own.”

Kaplan highlights some of the risks of being in a situation where your boss – if you have one – is no longer giving much consideration to your day-to-day actions:

In addition, our experience with clients – executive leaders in both the public and private sector – concurs with what Kaplan says about the highly successful leaders that he has observed.

“I have learned that a key characteristic of highly successful leaders is not that they figure out how to always stay on course, but that they develop techniques to help them recognize a deteriorating situation and get back on track as quickly as possible. In my experience, the best way to do that is to step back regularly, say every three to six months (and certainly whenever things feel as though they aren’t going well), and honestly ask yourself some questions about how you’re doing and what you may need to do differently.”

What makes the article a real keeper is Kaplan’s outline of seven types of questions that leaders should ask themselves periodically. He provides 2-4 practical questions under each of the following topics:


To assess your performance and stay on track, you should step back and ask yourself certain key questions.

Vision and Priorities

In the press of day-to-day activities, leaders often fail to adequately communicate their vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t communicate it in a way that helps their subordinates determine where to focus their own efforts.

Managing Time

Leaders need to know how they’re spending their time. They also need to ensure that their time allocation (and that of their subordinates) matches their key priorities.


Leaders often fail to coach employees in a direct and timely fashion and, instead, wait until the year-end review. This approach may lead to unpleasant surprises and can undermine effective professional development. Just as important, leaders need to cultivate subordinates who can give them advice and feedback during the year.

Succession Planning

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenged.

Evaluation and Alignment

The world is constantly changing, and leaders need to be able to adapt their businesses accordingly.

Leading Under Pressure

A leader’s actions in times of stress are watched closely by subordinates and have a profound impact on the culture of the firm and employees’ behavior. Successful leaders need to be aware of their own stress triggers and consciously modulate their behavior during these periods to make sure they are acting in ways that are consistent with their beliefs and core values.

Staying True to Yourself

Successful executives develop leadership styles that fit the needs of their business but also fit their own beliefs and personality.

Every leader makes mistakes. Even successful leaders periodically get off course. If you want to get back or stay on track, this process may be just what you need. As Kaplan reinforces, having all the right answers is often far less important than taking the time to ask yourself the right questions. It is our hope that these questions resonate with you and spark your thinking.

Again, you can find the article HERE. Let me know what you think.

Continuity Consulting is a management consulting firm focused on empowering leaders to build healthy, high-performing organizations and teams. If you would like to learn more, please contact us www.continuityconsulting.com.

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