Two Questions on Leadership

“Why do you wish to lead?” That’s a common question one is asked to write about when applying for any leadership job. Lots of people want to be a leader, but what does it mean to actually lead? Lead what? Lead whom? Lead where and how? And, of course, the Why?

Leadership is also not always about a position. There’s leading the work and leading people. Which one do you want? Which one is the job?

Leadership is about character more than anything else. Can you lead without a title? Can you show leadership when it’s not in your job description? Often, we expect responsibility before we’ve demonstrated accountability. We want the job or title before we’ve shown we are capable of doing it, and doing it well.

I ask aspiring leaders and mentees to consider these questions, to reflect deeply on them because leadership is as challenging as it is rewarding. There’s nothing easy about asking others to follow you…

…Which is why I ask those who want to work for me, and those who aspire to more than just a title or position and want to learn the character of leadership, “Why would anyone want to be led by you?”

The first question, “Why do you wish to lead?” is about you. The second question, “Why would anyone want to be led by you?” is not about you, even though you will have to talk about you. How does what matters to you also connect to what’d matter to others? What will your leadership offer someone else? There are probably more average, mediocre and poor leaders than good and great ones. So how do you improve yourself to improve others?

Great leaders make others better in the course of bettering their institutions. The second question is a more complex question than the first one and, therefore, a better one in my opinion. It’s about the whole and not just the individual; it requires deeper reflection on community and its people, on the ethics of leadership, not just the mechanics of it.

So, why would anyone want to be led by you?


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