The Most Important Question to Ask New Leaders

“Do you want this job so you can serve—or so you can be served?”  Of course if you ask most people this question straight-up, the answer will always be “to serve” in the mind of the applicant, but a closer examination of what is behind the desire to serve is still really an opportunity to accomplish individual goals.  For example: 

  • “I want to take this organization in a new direction.”
  • “I want to be able to ask anyone on the street who is the number one service provider in our space and hear…”
  • “I have a great idea on how to improve things.”

A serving leader, by contrast, will look to serve the goals that the organization wants to achieve. This is what Jim Collins referred to as “Level 5” leadership in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.  It is a combination of fierce resolve and will, combined with humility and a desire to serve the needs of the organization that delivers long term results.

For anyone involved in the evaluation and selection of leaders for their company, the challenge is to find people with that combination. 

We are just leaving the era of charismatic leadership.  We have all seen the effects of self-centered leadership.  It’s an effective entrepreneurial start-up strategy, but it can also create a rapid rise and fall cycle centered on the personality and drive of one person. 

Today we need a new leadership model—one that is focused on accomplishing the goals of the organization, as opposed to meeting the needs and aspirations of just the individual leader. The best leaders find and identify the strengths latent within people and organizations and lead them to a place that they couldn’t get to on their own.  In this way they truly serve.  And if they do it well, the people will say, “We did it ourselves.”

What attributes are you looking for in your new leaders?  To learn more about identifying leadership attitudes and beliefs check out these previous posts:

Are You a Serving, or a Self-Serving Leader?

Rebuilding Trust, Commitment, and Morale

Ego and the Dark Side of High Achievement

7 thoughts on “The Most Important Question to Ask New Leaders

  1. Potential Minus Actual.This performance gap needs to be continuously assessed and bridged by the leader. But then, the Potential itself can be raised continuously by the leader through appropriate motivational and skill building techniques.
    All this is, again, internal to the organization.
    Externally – what the customer takes – what exactly he wants and more than that, what exactly he needs – is also to be continuously assessed.This assessment must be aligned with the Potential and Actual performances within the company.

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