Stay really sharp as a leader – with 5 daily questions

Leadershipgrowth is about behavioral change. Now change is quite simple…..but not easy. If it were easy, you’d already been doing what you were supposed to do by now. How can you support yourself even better in your growth?

Stay really sharp as a leader - with 5 daily questions

Change is simpel, but not easy

Courage, humility, and discipline are three must-have hallmarks for good leadership. But not just that. Research by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith also shows that executives with a high commitment to show courage, humility, and discipline show the greatest growth in leadership.

The key part of this is “high commitment to show….” So not whether you are brave, humble, and disciplined, but whether you are willing to show that explicit behavior consistently in your role as a leader.

To be able to show it, you must translate courage, humility, and discipline into explicit behavior for yourself . What could that look like, for example?

“Anybody can change, but they have to want to change.” – Marshall Goldsmith


Courage is about you. Courage doesn’t mean you dare to do anything. Courage means that you do the necessary things despite the fact that you’re scared of it.

How do you show courage in this context? For example, by:

  • Asking for feedback about your performance
  • Reflecting on your own functioning and facing up to your own shortcomings
  • Devising strategies to address your shortcomings
  • Trying new things or suggestions
  • Candidly sharing with people what you’re learning

Defining explicit behavior related to courage is already brave, and it helps you to show it. Daring to ask others to remind you of that explicit behavior, or to speak up to you when you’re not showing it…….that is even braver! It greatly increases your chances of successful change and growth.

It helps to be alert to pitfalls, like only asking feedback from people who always agree with you, not making make time or priority for your own development, or justifying your own shortcomings.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” (James Baldwin)


While courage is about you, modesty is not about you. Humility is about the recognition that others sometimes know better than you. It’s about accepting that you can still grow as a leader and that the help of others can make a big contribution to that.

How do you show humility in this context? For example, by:

  • Recognizing that you are not perfect
  • Recognizing that change is needed to grow
  • Listening to feedback, including from people who are no better at your job than you are.
  • Admitting your own mistakes or failure
  • Accept help from others or from a structure supporting your change.

You show a lack of humility, by, for example, thinking that you are better than others and that you can manage change without a structure or discipline, by dismissing feedback as ‘someone else’s problem’, by always letting your ego speak, by focusing on the mistakes of others or by not accepting any help.

“When we presume that we are better than people who need structure and guidance, we lack one of the most crucial ingredients for change: humility.”


Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan conducted research on the impact of leadership development programs, as assessed by participants’ staff.

They found that leaders who do not follow up structurally on their training or coaching are not making any progress. Their participation in such a leadership program is virtually worthless.

At the same time, it appears that leaders who are consistently applying in practice what they have learned, who discuss what they have learned with colleagues, and do regular progress checks, are becoming increasingly effective leaders.

You need discipline for that. How do you show that in this context? For example, by:

  • Applying directly what you learn or want to change.
  • Discussing with others what you’ve learned.
  • Measurable tracking of your intended actions.
  • Blocking time and energy for your planned actions and stick to that.
  • Consistently repeating new behavior until it has become a habit.
  • Building a structure that makes it easy for you to perse on.

You show a lack of discipline when you continuously prioritize other things, make excuses, blame the circumstances, give up after a day, week or month because it requires effort or say yes, do no.

“Great leaders encourage leadership development by openly developing themselves.”

Become a more effective leader

No matter what area you want to grow as a leader, the chances of actually doing so increase if you stick to your own commitment to showing courage, modesty, and discipline.

It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t work out from time to time. Judging yourself harsh on this doesn’t add any value. It’s about whether you are committed, and have done your best, regardless of the result.

In our coaching relationship, I hold you on your own intentions. Your intentions around courage, humility, and discipline, and your intentions around your own change. Because that contributes to your process, and because we agreed to that together. Not to judge you. But to grow sustainably, to become the leader you want to be.

Stay sharp with 5 questions a day

But even without a coach, this is a valuable process. Marshall Goldsmith has developed a beautiful process for himself, which I have gladly copied from him to keep myself ‘sharp’ and ‘on my toes’:

You ask yourself every night if you have done your best to show (in this case) courage, humility, and discipline in your growth process. So again regardless of the result.

You can also apply those “have I done my best to…” questions to other behaviors you want to change. Or to the values you want to live by. Based on Marshall’s example:

  1. Have I done my best to set clear goals?
  2. Have I done my best to achieve those goals?
  3. Did I do my best to be happy?
  4. Did I do my best to add value?
  5. Have I done my best to show courage, humility, and discipline in my learning process?

Make sure to turn these into your own relevant 5 important questions.

If you can consistently answer every night that you have done your best (without excuses), then you will continue to grow consistently and sustainably.

And in case you have to conclude that you didn’t do your best for a day? Then you have just given yourself a great reminder to try again tomorrow!


This blog is one of a series of blogs in which I share my 10 key insights from the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching approach. Insights that can help you become a more effective leader.  Read all 10 insights here

Every night, ask yourself whether you did your best, despite t outcome of your effort.

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