With Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday being honored next week, we took a moment to reflect upon the man and his contributions to our country. I came away with a renewed appreciation of his leadership skills. In a horribly challenging environment, he motivated people, bridged seemingly insurmountable divides, built alliances, and navigated necessary lasting change on a national level. Top tier leader material for sure, one truly worthy of being named “King.”
Marveling at the appropriateness of his name, I drew a connection to The Three Questions, a short story by the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy. In the story, there is a king who sought the answers to three questions. He believed that they were the most important questions in life and that knowing the correct answers would make him a better king. He asked many wise and educated people in his kingdom but was unable to determine a consensus, so, finally, he sought the opinion of an old hermit and received sage advice.
Our mission is to bring you the best expert thinking to help you achieve your career, leadership and business goals. As a result, we have many wise and educated people, modern day “sages,” in our network, so we reached out to five of them to see what they thought the answers to a modernized version of those three questions which so troubled the king would be.
Alex Bogusky: marketer, author and consumer advocate
Seth Godin: author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker
Peter Bregman: author, public speaker and leadership coach
Doug Sundheim: leadership and strategy expert and author
Laura Stack: America’s premier expert in workplace productivity, employee performance and execution
Q. What is the best time for a leader to do things?
Bogusky: ASAP. Take the time to think but not enough time to over-think.
Godin: Most things shouldn’t be done by the leader, of course. The hard things should be done before anyone realizes they’re needed.
Bregman: Challenging things? In the morning. Everything else? After answering these questions: 1. Am I the right person? 2. Is this the right time? 3. Do I have enough information?
Sundheim: In the moment
Stack: To make the best use of your time, it’s often the little moments that count, specifically, one moment. The second you think to yourself, “Okay… what should I do next?” In that space of time, you choose to be productive… or not.
Q. Who is the most important one in the organization?
Bogusky: The best idea is boss.
Godin: The spaces between people are more important than the people, that’s why it’s an organization, not merely a bunch of individuals. The most important one, then, is the relationships between and among.
Bregman: Honestly? I hate to be right, but the CEO.
Sundheim: It’s a flawed question. Great organizations that do great things see everyone’s contributions as critical.
Stack: The person you are with right now.
Q. What is the right thing to do?
Bogusky: The right thing is the thing that best serves all of the stakeholders: The employees, investors, community and environment.
Godin: And that’s the question that matters. We tend to do the wrong thing when we don’t bother asking what the right thing is.
Bregman: We all know the right thing to do – it’s doing it that’s hard sometimes, because the temptations to do the wrong thing are often seductive.
Sundheim: The work right in front of you
Stack: Be there. While you listen to someone, don’t allow your mind to race and wander off, thinking about other things. Stay focused. Your lack of distractedness will make the person in front of you feel valued.
Just like Tolstoy’s king, we could not find consensus either, but as Dr. King once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”