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The One Question Every Leader Should Ask

Multiplied businessman standing with question marks in fron of his faceMultiplied businessman standing with question marks in fron of his face

The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Roxanne Taylor, chief marketing and communications officer at Accenture.

Today’s leaders have to think, act, and adapt more quickly than ever to stay ahead of the competition. Whatever you did yesterday isn’t enough because it can now be copied by everyone else. Below are some lessons I share with my own team on a daily basis to keep us competitive:

Just say “yes
In business, and quite frankly in most areas of life, I don’t like the word “no” and will often refuse to take no for an answer. When I became Accenture’s chief marketing officer, the division was known as the “brand police.” Accenture employees felt that marketing told everyone else in the company what they could not do with our brand rather than what was possible. I decided to take a radically different approach, aimed at arriving at “yes.” My first question is always: What are the business objectives we are trying to achieve? Then I work with my team to decide how to get there.

Embrace the “grey” areas
Many of the decisions business leaders face don’t have clear “black or white” answers. That’s why grey is my favorite color. It reminds me that these times of ambiguity are often the times when leaders can step up and make a real difference. You aren’t ever going to have all the facts and if you wait to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” you have probably waited too long. Analyze the variables as best as you can, then decide on a course of action and keep moving. Time is not a friend to the leader today, as we’re living through one of the most dynamic and disruptive eras ever. You can course correct as you go, and change, tweak or update, but you can’t wait. Things are rarely going to be black or white, so get used to operating in the grey areas.

See also: Proof You Should Take More Breaks at Work

Start from right now
I always ask myself: How can I accomplish my objective using every resource that is available to me right now? The past is history that may help inform a decision, but every situation is different and the best starting point is assessing what you can put in place to solve a problem “right now.” Each quarter, when we’re communicating our earnings, one of the things I’m passionate about is telling the story from “right now.” Many quarterly reports begin with looking back at the way results were expressed in the previous quarter, but every quarter is different and unique, so we have to start by telling the story of this quarter — the “right now.” This is how my team and I approach our daily work, asking how we can accomplish a goal using everything that is available to us today. In our experience, that’s the best way to be cutting edge; to lead rather than follow.

Always keep asking “what’s next?”
I tell my teams that it’s what you do next that counts most. Too many people waste way too much time dwelling on the past. If something has gone wrong, do an assessment, figure out why, then move forward and do what you should have done. Own the mistake and then take steps to rectify it. In issues management, which is part of what my team does, you have to tell your own story as a company, in your own voice — and then you have to talk about what you’re going to do next. This is true for individuals in business as well, especially leaders.