I was in the home of a friend one day when I saw something that has inspired in me an important belief about leadership.
Years ago, my buddy Jason had two adorable, elementary school-aged daughters who happened to arrive home from school while I was visiting. After the requisite hugs and snacks, my friend turned to each girl alternatively and said, “High/Low.” This was obviously a daily ritual, because the two girls were prepared. The “High” for one of them was that she got to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. For the other it was that she loved doing Show and Tell.
Then came the “Lows.” A tough math quiz topped one list. That “stupid” Johnny Daniels headed the other. After this, Jason asked them both, “So what will you do about it?”
Leading the Pledge of Allegiance had meant a great deal because leadership is important and we love our country. This was much discussed. So was the reason the other daughter had done well in Show and Tell. Was it preparation? Was it that she cared about her presentation? Was it that she helped someone by what was said? And so it went. By the way, forgiving Johnny Daniels got more than a little attention.
It occurred to me that by asking his daughters simple questions each school day, Jason was building thoughtful, wise, self-aware daughters. All it took was a two-word question that then led to meaningful discussion.
On another occasion, I was with a general. We had only met an hour before when he turned to me and said, “Review!”
Then he asked these questions:
“You lovin’ your wife?”
“You stayin’ in shape?”
“You bein’ a man?
“You buildin’ for tomorrow?”
When I answered only “yes” to these questions, he silently raised his eyebrows as though to say, “Details, boy, details!” I filled him in briefly. Then he nodded, said, “Stay on it,” and walked away.
These two experiences taught me that running through a brief checklist with people you are committed to is a powerful way to help them improve. I do it to this day. If I’m sitting with a friend, I’ll often say, “All good at home?” Then, “You feelin’ in place?” This is usually followed by, “Stayin’ in shape?” Sometimes I’ll add, “How are you and God?” And always, “What’s not workin’ for you right now?” Others do the same with me.
This is an important tool of leadership. Check on those around you in short, pointed ways that surface anything amiss. Encourage the same back at you. For close friends, the questions will be highly personal. For the guy on the factory floor, the questions might be practical with a “How’s your son’s knee injury?” at the end. What’s important is that you run a list with him. Give him a chance to tell you what’s wrong. Give him a chance to brag. Take his temperature.
Leadership requires review. Leadership requires terse checklists. Be intentional about this in your own life and in your impact upon others.