5 Questions Driving Leaders – Unplugged!

A brain discovering a question can never return to its previous state.

“How can I finish this project in this limited timeframe?”

“Am I really supposed to get all this done by myself?”

“What can I do to make my kids’ be more responsible?”

If only we could forget our troubles as easily as we forget our blessings. This brings up the point – equally important to our growing “to do” list is our “not to do” list. If we spend our time only focused on “to do” lists, and cannot define a “not to do” list, we become overwhelmed and over-loaded. Having too many priorities is the same as having no priorities.

So the key is to ask ourselves empowering questions in order to find even more empowering answers. I’ve asked leaders to “Make a list of the ‘tough questions’ they ask themselves privately, to define issues and relationships that give them energy, along with a list of questions that drain their energy.” I ask them to Include all the people, places, things, experiences, thoughts, feelings, and even foods that either increase or decrease their energy levels. Then, each week, I ask them to resolve to let go of one thing that drains their energy and add one thing that gives them energy.  It’s simple yet important and effective!

Based on hundreds of workshop and survey responses, here are the 5 most common questions senior leaders engaging in this activity asked themselves. The answers to these 5 questions changed their story – about why they act the way they do, and in this process they discovered more liberation, energy and engagement to be involved in what they listed as their goals.

1. What is the # 1 reason I don’t achieve my health, diet or fitness goals? Reportedly, Oprah Winfrey has always battled with her weight. For years she reconciled herself to the fact that as an entertainment mogul, she was simply subjected to dinners and events with drinks and food, and that her weight was simply the price she paid for her celebrity. Then over the past 10 years, she has had remarkable success in controlling her weight. Her success was a reflection of changing her own story about herself from “I am an entertainment mogul” to “Am I a woman of my word, or not?” Change our story – rewire our thinking – and we can change our behaviors and results

2. Why do I work so hard? Am I working to provide things, money, status, or for mental challenge?

We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t’ have to Impress people we don’t know!”   ~ Rick Warren

 The formula for success and a nervous breakdown are the same!

If the above things, and mental challenges are our values, then working so hard to support our values may be appropriate. For many of us, we are zapping our energy and engagement away from those things we say are the most important. Our time, money and effort may be going to less important goals. If we center our efforts on our values, we gain more energy! Harnessing our emotions and mental efforts and directing them towards our values and purpose will give us huge dividends in energy gain.

“When we have exhausted all efforts to change the world, its time to change ourselves.”   ~ Viktor Frankl

3. What people and relationships in my life help create more energy? Do I have “toxic relationships” in my life right now? Do they serve a purpose for me? Is there a way I could give them up or change them? If so, how can I do that? People are energy drainers or energy givers. Do we manage our relationships, or do they manage us? What are some behaviors, habits, and relationships we could choose to engage instead, that would give us energy and enhance our health – emotionally, mentally, purposefully, and physically?

Honesty is telling the truth to others. Integrity is telling the truth to ourselves.

4. How do I stop my bad habits! We know tobacco and alcohol are the breakfast foods of champions – Not! We live in a time of celebration and abundance and in order to manage our goals, we must first manage our habits. Changing our habits starts with PRIDE – Personal Responsibility in Individual Daily Effort.

We have all said, ‘An Apple-a-day’ keeps the doctor away. When did it suddenly become a ‘Donut-a-Day’? Maybe we can get away with a ‘donut-a-day’ for days or even months, with no ill effect, but after 30 years – we need a doctor! We come home from a great day or a horrible day, and we reward ourselves with chips, beer or cookies because we have “earned” it. Surviving under today’s pressure we’re probably alright mentally – but not physically.

We have turned food from a fuel into a reward system, and a way to celebrate, date someone, or satisfy pain. Our Homo sapien body has survived for eons due to our fat storing abilities. In the end, we hurt our goals and mission to be better parent or spouse by our daily food and exercise choices – argh!

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.

If we change our own story about the foods we eat and drink, we can gain energy. Just by choosing smaller portions, exercising more and making better food choices, we can get more energy. Voila!

5. What is the key motivation in my life? What is our ultimate mission?  Most of us have not taken the time to fully evaluate the choices we make. We have always worked for the best grades, best job, most money and then we focus on happiness.

Happiness is less important; meaningfulness is more.  It could be wealth, power, titles, or spending more time with our family that is meaningful to you. I am not sure who earns the title of the happiest person on earth, but I do know that the happiest people have learned how to serve others.

Happiness can be like a full tummy after a big meal – it feels great but its only temporary. Meaningfulness is a goal of creating lasting happiness through our grateful heart and ongoing service to others. Serving others builds our sense of gratefulness. In turn we become grateful for the chance to help others and through our efforts we build our own self-worth, values and happiness. Defining our values is step 1 and the daily exercise of practicing activities that support our values will enhance our meaningfulness.

Each of us has unique reasons for wanting to create more engagement in our lives. It takes building energy since time itself is fixed. There are no right or wrong questions, however there is too often a lack of thoughtfulness or haphazard planning.  We spend more time planning a vacation than we do planning our life!

Tough questions require tough answers – sometimes from ourselves.


  1. “Honesty is telling the truth to others. Integrity is telling the truth to yourself.” Great quote! So true. Terrific post.

  2. Jim, this is a very thoughtful and powerful recipe for success. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to live a life of authenticity. These five questions are a great reminder that every person should be asking themselves when they wake up in the morning.

    ~Tom Schulte

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