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Guest opinion: Three leading questions for leading yourself and others


By Emily Abbas | Chief consumer banking and marketing officer, Bankers Trust

When you think of asking “leading questions,” what comes to mind?

Typically, it’s a strategy used to lead someone to a desired answer. My view of leading questions, however, is more literal — specifically, how leading yourself and others starts with an exploratory approach of asking questions of yourself.

I’ve used “leading” or “guiding” questions throughout my career and recently developed more structure around the approach as a speaker for the Des Moines Downtown Chamber’s LEAP (Leadership Education and Advancement Pipeline) series.

My 25-year professional journey includes two distinct phases: The first was leading myself; the second is leading others. To summarize my 30-minute LEAP presentation in a five-minute read, I’ll focus on the power of reflection and action, guided by the following three assessment questions and related tips.

1. How self-aware are you?

My wake-up call on self-awareness came about 10 years ago. I was achieving goals and consistently receiving praise for my work, and was surprised when someone told me I needed to become more self-aware. I had never been told that before. Over time, I came to understand what it meant and how to develop and demonstrate self-awareness:

  • First, establish in your head and heart that feedback is a gift. If someone didn’t think you could or would improve, they wouldn’t invest their time and energy into giving you feedback.
  • Second, whether giving or receiving feedback, recognize that in-the-moment feedback is the most valuable because it allows for immediate, two-way dialogue.
  • Finally, ask for 360 evaluations. This provides the benefit of receiving feedback from a variety of people: peers, reporting staff, colleagues in other departments and even customers, consultants and others who interact with you.

Accountability partners, mentors and personal boards are also helpful when it comes to self-awareness. Ask those you trust to help keep you informed and in check regarding how others may perceive you.

2. Are you working at your pace or the pace of those around you?

Especially early in our careers, we want to prove ourselves. We are recognized for “making things happen,” and speed of deployment is often rewarded. However, later – and trust me on this – you will realize that we accomplish more and are likely more positively perceived when we take the time to bring others along.

In addition to the usual process of seeking input and engagement from team members, I’ve found another key to pacing is flexibility. This trait is most evident when things don’t go as planned. Do you have plans B, C and D ready? Are you willing to allow or invite others to lead the issue or project? In short, your ability to think in terms of contingency planning, along with the patience to allow for the pace of the full team and the development of others, is a great leadership test, especially during midcourse corrections.

3. What more can you do to lift up others?

This one, which I now find most rewarding, requires us to focus less on ourselves and more on others. Jim Autry, former CEO of Meredith Corp. and author, refers to this as Servant
Leadership. At the heart of this approach is the idea that businesses are transformed when their leaders nurture the needs and goals of their employees.

I’ve found asking these questions helps guide the right actions for lifting up others:

  • How can I ensure others are comfortable sharing ideas?
  • How can I help them do their best work?
  • How can I make sure they get credit and recognition?

At this point in my life, I get more out of watching others receive praise and recognition than I do from receiving it myself. If you’re still not there, start with something small such as giving a colleague a compliment in a meeting or writing a note of appreciation to a team member or another department for their great work. Ultimately, what you will learn, especially if you are in a position where measurable goals and key metrics are valued, is that it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we don’t care who gets the credit.

In summary, while it’s important to advocate for yourself, don’t forget to bring others along with you. Take time to reflect on your strengths and growth opportunities, stay aware of and prepare for the constant potential for change, and seek out ways to advocate for others. Commit today to being intentional and inspired to LIFT up others and experience the rewards that come from asking yourself leading questions.

LEAP’s mission is to build a community that empowers and motivates women by helping them reach their fullest potential. View Emily’s full LEAP presentation.

Des Moines native and community advocate Emily Abbas serves the largest independent bank in Iowa as senior vice president, chief consumer banking and marketing officer. Emily gives back to our community through leadership positions with United Way of Central Iowa, MercyOne Medical Center, Drake University, Downtown Community Alliance, Greater Des Moines Partnership Communications Board, Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, Robert D. and Billie Ray Center, Better Business Bureau, and more. She was honored as the 2016 Emerging Woman of Influence by the Des Moines Business Record. She was recognized nationally as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News in 2016, and in 2019 was named AMA Iowa’s inaugural Marketing Executive of the Year.

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