My Top 5 Questions for Alignment How I Align with the People in My Inner Circle
In this article, I will share with you the exact questions I use with my inner circle in our biannual evaluations. This is our time of aligning. In my previous post, I described why I prefer to use a narrative approach (versus a numerical one) to articulate how we evaluate one another, our relationship, and our journey together.
My hope is that these questions may be a starting point for you as you reflect on how to spend this important time with those whom you work most closely with.
The Five Questions Are Designed to Target These Areas
These five questions are not aimed at exploring character (ex: work ethic, integrity, compassion, etc.). Nor are we setting out to rank someone’s professional behavior (ex: time management, organization skills, or job performance).
There are two reasons I avoid traditional evaluation questions such as these. First, I prefer to deal with these issues swiftly—as they occur. I do not wait six months to discuss them. Second, if a person has not already mastered maturity in the areas of their character and professionalism, I would not have invited them into my inner circle to begin with. Nor would I keep them there if their behavior became unprofessional or unpredictable. Having said that, we must remember that none of us are perfect. We are all under construction all the time. So even though my expectations are high in these areas, I endeavor to operate in grace with people, as I hope they will also do with me.
Since I do not include traditional evaluation questions in my biannual times of alignment, what do I include? I target this time together to assess our compatibility in terms of direction. Are we still on the same path together? Are we still working toward a common destination?
When aligning with my inner circle, there are five basic questions we begin with (listed below). If we want to add more, we agree on those together. And we give ourselves at least a couple of weeks to think on them and prepare thoughtful answers. We both answer the same questions for each other. And when we meet for alignment, we typically take about two hours to discuss these (each person is allotted about an hour). Here are the five questions.
1—In what areas do I excel?
This is a time to dig in and give sincere, positive feedback. This is much deeper than just making someone feel good. When someone does something exceptionally well, they are not always even aware that they are doing it so well. So in a meaningful working relationship, when we can point these things out to one another, it encourages us both to do more of what we do well.
I am all for making positivity a part of our culture in our daily leadership journey, but that’s not enough. During this time of aligning, I like to take an hour or more to specifically communicate the positive contributions the other person is making to the organization and to our relationship. I write a paragraph or more about each area the other person is adding value to the team, and I share it with them during our meeting.
Don’t rush this process; spend quality time here. This will serve you both well. Recognizing the strengths in others will help you both identify your “sweet spot.” And it will reveal where you should each target your energies—in the areas in which you each excel.
2—In what areas can I grow?
Another variation to this question is, “What are my blind spots?” What is something that is holding me back that others see, but I don’t?
In regard to feedback, I have seen that most bosses believe it is more important that they give feedback to their people. I think the opposite is true. It is more important that you get feedback from them. The higher you rise in leadership, the less feedback you typically receive. After all, those closest to you love you and naturally want a harmonious relationship. So if you don’t create a safe atmosphere and regular time for them to speak into your life and leadership, chances are they will not.
So receive their feedback gladly and gratefully. People take a risk when they give us feedback. Write down what they say. Review it. Apply it. And thank them for it.
Then, don’t be shy to give them feedback as well. Be gracious. Choose timely topics. This is a appropriate area to apply the concept of next. Don’t tell people every single way under the sun you think they can grow. Rather, give them next steps. We can demoralize a person with the degree and sharpness of our words. Refuse to unload your every critique on them. Be selective in what and how you communicate in this area. The point is to help people grow, not to just point out their shortcomings. Be strategic in what you share.
3—Are we aligned in our purpose and vision?
The goal with this question is to examine both our personal and professional purpose and vision. Are we still aligned in these areas. Purpose answers why do I exist? And vision answers where am I going? So on a personal level, I want to restate to the other person what I think my life is about. And I want to put into words where my life is headed.
If this feels a little to personal to share, remember we are talking to our inner circle—people who have been with us for a while, people we trust, and those who hopefully have a certain level of maturity and professional acumen. These questions are not intended for the person we just brought onto our team. And so for those key relationships, in my opinion, we operate best when both people’s personal purpose and vision are aligned.
Your organization’s purpose and vision should then be examined. Do those align with our personal ones? If our organizational purpose and vision are not in sync, separate agendas will naturally form. And we must guard against that.
So what happens if you discover your vision and purpose are not aligned? Whether on a personal or professional level, this is never a place for judgment. This is a place of discovery, acknowledgment, and respect. I never want to speak judgment on another person’s purpose and vision for their life. Nor do I want judgment passed on mine.
What I aim for is that two people can come together, share our life stories and how the chapters are unfolding. And then ask ourselves if we can remain co-authors in the beautiful narrative we are writing together. This is a time for two people to listen with open hearts and seek to finely tune our trajectory to align with one another without over bending or breaking our own.
My goal here is clear: Our personal and professional purpose and vision should align.
4—Is our financial arrangement still fair?
This is a straightforward issue and usually a sensitive one. But it is an important that it not be neglected. If we make it a normal expectation for our conversations and relationships, we can remove the sensitivity of it as well. So make it a safe and regular topic of discussion.
Here are the principles to consider here:
- Is there more money available to be shared?
- The starting point of what people should be paid is what the market dictates.
- Generosity should be practiced always, from both sides.
- Most seasoned people don’t focus on making more money, they focus on adding more value. They focus on becoming better because that is their life value. And they know that the money will follow.
5—Are you happy?
This is my favorite question. I want to be happy doing what I am doing. And I want what I am doing now to be my finest work yet—something that brings me satisfaction on many levels, something I am proud of! And I want the people with me to feel the same way.
When we are happiest, we do amazing work. And when we do amazing work, we are happiest. Examining this question allows both people to go even deeper into their life journey and share from their hearts.
Finally, the key to this time of aligning is trust and transparency, without which there will not be true cohesion. And I believe the ideal result is finding the win-win in each relationship. This principle is commonly accepted, but uncommonly practiced. Make the other person’s happiness a priority for yourself. Literally seek their happiness. And at the same time, insist that you are happy too. Find the win-win.
Actionable Step: Start with these five questions. Adjust them or add to them to fit your journey. Schedule one-on-one time with the individuals in your inner circle to discuss them.
Book I just read: The Hour that Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer, by Dick Eastman. Commanded by Jesus, prayer is a must in the life of a Christian. The author recommends an hour in prayer, based on how Jesus instructed his disciplines to stay awake with him an hour in prayer as He faced the cross. Prayer should not be random, but planned. Not regimented, but strategic. He recommends these 12 types of fellowship to take place in that hour of prayer:
- Scriptural Reading
I do recommend this book, if you are of Christian faith and want to grow in your life of prayer.
For Further Reading: