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Have you ever asked yourself this simple question?

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Sherry's project is going sideways in a hurry. The Executive team decided this was the best system for the business. They all said yes together. Today, five months into their implementation, the same Executive team is second-guessing everything.


It’s a nightmare for Sherry. And the worst part is, she knows why it’s happening. Joe, the General Manager, is getting pushback from people whose jobs will change a lot. He’s using their pushback to make his own life more comfortable by resisting the change at the Executive level. Also, Sherry dislikes Joe immensely. He’s disrespectful, and acts like he’s more important than her.


And so, Sherry is stuck. She’s stuck waiting for her CEO to just tell Joe to address the concerns of his team, while simultaneously committing to the choice the Executive team made together. Eventually, her CEO follows through with this conversation. Eventually, Joe follows through on his part too, albeit half-heartedly. And the project continues to stall, elevating costs and delaying any benefits.


And then Sherry starts asking herself one simple question every day:


“What does this situation require of me?”


This one question slowly transforms her perspective of things. She sets aside what she thinks her CEO should be doing. She sets aside her opinions about Joe. She realizes she doesn’t have to be frustrated or emotional. She doesn’t have to succumb to power struggles.


“What does this situation require of me?”


I sometimes think if I could just get every leader to ask themselves this question whenever they’re at an impasse – whenever they are thinking about what to do next – it would transform our corporate cultures all by itself.


Here’s why I love this question – in three parts:


1) Part 1: “What does this situation…”

Exploring “the situation” takes our emphasis off the people involved and the emotions we’re feeling and places it on to tangible observations and facts. When I asked Sherry to tell me about “the situation,” she stopped talking about Joe, and started describing different perspectives of different people in the company. She talked about what people were concerned with. She talked about what the vendor was doing (or not doing). In other words, her view widened – she zoomed out from her intense focus on Joe and looked at all the things going on around her. She also became more detached, emotionally. Situations don’t elicit the same emotional response as people (“who’s” are more emotional than “what’s”).


2) Part 2: “…require…”

This word also creates a new lens. “Require” takes the emphasis off what we think, or want, or feel and forces us to explore the outcome we want. Afterall, what’s required is always dictated by what’s desired. When Sherry started using this question, it pulled her out of her frustration over what had happened in the past, and got her thinking about what she want to be true by the end of the day, or the end of the week, or even the end of her next conversation with Joe. She stopped talking about what was comfortable or easy, and started talking about what was necessary to get the project back on track.


3) Part 3: “…of me?”

And this last piece, instills ownership. When difficult situations arise (and they always do) we can get caught thinking about what everyone else should be doing, or not doing. When Sherry started asking what the situation required of her, she stopped talking about who or what was right or wrong. She stopped debating whether something was or was not her job. She just accepted the reality she was in and got busy thinking about what she could do to change it.


As the saying goes, you can’t read the label from inside the jar. This simple question has the ability to shift our perspective from the inside, to the outside.


Leaders like Sherry, who want to positively impact their organizations, always reach a point in their careers where they realize that their impact - whether it’s getting results in their department, building morale and culture, or making sure they’re driving strategy forward – requires action that may not be fun, easy or comfortable.


Because what feels right, very often isn’t.


“What does this situation require of you?”


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My name is Laura Vaughan. I'm a CPA, a former CEO and I elevate the world's managers so they can do three things in your business: 1) Deliver Consistent Results, 2) Nurture Key Relationships and 3) Drive Strategic Growth. Ask me about The Skillful Manager Program - high-impact, low-time-intensive training for your top team.


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