Life and Leadership

Steve leaned back, crossed his arms, and sighed.

“It’s not right! My VP expects me to hit these numbers, but customers want updates, and research is focused on new products and won’t give me the time of day.”

He shook head. “I guess I’ll go down to R&D and tell them they’ve got to change their attitude. This just sucks!”

“How do you think that will work?”

“It won’t! But what else can I do?”

When life isn’t fair


Does it sound familiar? You might have been in such a situation more than once.

You’re working hard, you take your work seriously, and then you’re confronted with obstacles. These are not your fault. You didn’t ask for them, but there they are, staring you in the face, keeping you from moving forward.

Every leader is faced with unfair, difficult circumstances at some point.

Many people will spend years or even their entire life stuck in the quicksand of “not-fair-despair.”

But it’s also the moment where leaders are born.


Steve was stuck because,

  • He hadn’t asked the most important question that every great leader asks of both themselves and their team.
  • He was stuck because his focus was on the problems: other people’s expectations and attitudes.
  • He was stuck because he chose to see himself as a victim.


Steve is not alone —you hear many people shouting, “Why me?”


If you’re there now, it’s OK. It means you are human. Just don’t stay there.


“Why me?” and “What’s wrong with those people?” are horrible leadership questions. They suck the energy out of you because they give away your power.


Words that will transform your life and leadership


It only takes one question. It’s a question every great leader asks “How Can I…”

Those seven letters may not look like much, but they are the foundation of leadership.


With those words you:

  • Return focus to your own power and ability to act.
  • Taps into the energy of your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that          problem-solves and plans).
  • Vastly increase the odds of finding a solution (because you’re looking for them!).
  • Take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control — yourself.


How it works

When Steve asked, “How can I…”, he finished the question with her goals.
For example: “How can I work with R&D to find a solution to the customer updates and meet my numbers?”

Or, “how can I work with my VP to meet or modify my sales goals?”


With that one “how can I” in mind, Steve generated a list of potential solutions that didn’t involve forcing someone else to do something.

This question works for teams, too. You can transform a room full of stymied staff, and representatives with one question: “We can find 1,000 reasons why this won’t work. Let’s try a different question, ‘How can we do it?’”

In a matter of time, everyone’s thinking changed.

This powerful question is at the heart of leadership. Leaders take ownership for themselves, others, and the world around them. You simply cannot lead without first taking responsibility.


  1. When you ask “How can I…” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.”That’s OK. Use this follow up question: “What might I do if I did know?” Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?” As with shampoo: rinse and repeat!

  1. Responsibility doesn’t mean co-dependency
  • You are responsible to your team, not for your team.
  • To your organization, not for your organization.
  • To your spouse, not for your spouse.


What problem are you and your team facing that you’re not sure how to solve?

How can you pull together and figure it out?


Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise

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