Last Updated on 18 June 2012

How are you performing as a leader?

HBR January Cover

The January issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine is chock full of great leadership advice.

One article that especially stands out is “The Tests of a Leader: What to Ask the Person in the Mirror” by Robert S. Kaplan. On page 90, there is a test yourself section which ask questions within seven categories. Here are the categories, my paraphrasing, and the assessment questions the article offers.

Visit the HBR website to get purchase the full article.

Vision and Priorities

Leaders need to communicate their vision to the organization in a way that helps their subordinates know how to prioritize.

Q: How often do I communicate a vision for my business?
Q: Have I identified and communicated three to five key priorities to achieve that vision?
Q: If asked, would my employees be able to articulate the vision and priorities?

Managing Time

Leaders need to know how their time. They also need to make sure their time and the time allocation of their subordinates matches key priorities.

Q: How am I spending my time? Does it match my key priorities?
Q: How are my subordinates spending their time? Does that match the key priorities of the business?


Leaders often fail to direct employees in a direct and timely fashion, saving feedback for a year-end review. This leads to surprises and undermines development. Just as important, managers need to cultivate subordinates who can “manage up” and provide advice and feedback during the year.

Q: Do I give timely and direct feedback that they can act on?
Q: Do I have junior subordinates who will tell me things I may not want to hear but need to hear?

Succession Planning

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenges.

Q: Have I, at least in my own mind, picked one or more potential successors?
Q: Am I coaching them and giving them challenging assignments?
Q: Am I delegating sufficiently? Have I become a decision-making bottleneck?

Evaluation & Alignment

Leaders need to adapt their business to the constantly changing world.

Q: Is the design of my company still aligned with the key success factors for the business?
Q: If I had to design my business with a clean sheet of paper, how would I design it? How would it differ from the current design?
Q: Should I create a task force of subordinates to answer these questions and make recommendations to me?

Leading Under Pressure

A leader’s actions in times of stress are especially visible to subordinates and has a strong effect on culture and on how others react. Successful leaders pay attention to their own ‘stress triggers’ and make sure they monitor their behavior and act in alignment with their beliefs and core values.

Q: What types of events create pressure for me?
Q: How do I behave under pressure?
Q: What signals am I sending my subordinates? Are these signals helpful, or are they undermining the success of my business?

Staying True to Yourself

Successful executives develop a leadership style that fits the need of the business but also fits their own beliefs and personality.

Q: Is my leadership style comfortable? Does it reflect who I truly am?
Q: Do I assert myself sufficiently, or have I become tentative?
Q: Am I too politically correct?
Q: Does worry about my next promotion or bonus cause me to pull punches or hesitate to express my views?

I hope you’ve found these questions to be as insightful as I have. How do you feel about your own responses?