Big Questions Leaders Ask

Below is a guest post by author, Mark Miller, of “The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do”. You can read a review of his book by clicking here.

Mark Miller Guest Post

One of the most valuable activities I’ve done in recent years has been unannounced market visits. On more than one occasion, our leadership team has visited 20+ restaurants in 48 hours – about a third of the stops were at our restaurants and the balance were visits to our competitors. Never in my 35-year career have I been more grounded in reality.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the first post in this series regarding the most important questions leaders ask. In that initial post, I surfaced THE primary question every leader must askTweet: THE primary question every leader must ask. @leadersserve #leadership Guest post – and answer: “Where are we going?” Today, another foundational question:

Where Are We Today?

The importance of knowing your current reality may seem obvious to you. Unfortunately, I see many leaders who are moving into the future blinded and oblivious to their current reality. The tragedy in this… it is virtually impossible to chart the most appropriate course to your preferred future if you don’t know where you’re starting the journey. Knowing where you are today is just as important as clarity regarding your ultimate destination.

Have you ever looked at a map at an airport or shopping mall and been confused regarding which way to turn? I have. Your destination may be crystal clear, but unless you can find a “YOU ARE HERE” icon, the map is not much help. You must understand where you are before you can move confidently towards your destination.

There are many ways to discern reality – surveys, focus groups, current and historical data, one-on-one interviews, and more. However, there’s really no substitute for firsthand observations. That’s why great generals visit the front lines. It’s also why Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic — the medical device company, was in the operating room to observe more than 1000 procedures during his tenure with the company.

This need to be grounded in truth is also why many organizations start their strategic planning process with an Environmental Scan. That’s just a fancy name for a reality check. It’s the compilation of all the data and insight you can reasonably compile to define your current situation (a.k.a. Where are we now?)

When done well, an Environmental Scan not only includes information about your organization, it also includes industry and competitive analysis. You may even look at demographic trends and future projections based on those trends.

Regardless of your approach, leaders must be able to assess your current reality. Then, you can intelligently answer the question we’ll address next week: How will we get there?

How Do You Stay Grounded In Reality?

This post originally published Monday, March 3, 2014 at

Author Mark Miller

Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else.  In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing.

The 10th anniversary edition of The Secret will be released September 2, 2014.

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