The One Question You Must Ask Yourself as a Leader

    Jan 24, 2019

    If each of the people you lead were to look at you and ask, “Are you for me, against me, or for yourself?” how would they answer?

    It is an important question, one that is asked by those we lead at least once during the relationship. Once the answer has been confirmed, usually through our daily actions, the question rarely comes up again, as the person then understands your intent.

    To gain a better understanding of the concept, try the following exercise:

    • Make a list the past 5 to 10 bosses or influencers in your life.
    • Next to each name write whether the person was for you, against you, or for him/herself.
    • Think about a few key examples to solidify your answers.
    • Consider how the answers affected your career and development.

    I would guess that, in most cases, you wrote down that your bosses were for themselves. (It is rare to have your last eight bosses be against you). While some were no doubt adamantly for you, I’ve found that most leaders tend to be most focused on things that affect themselves.

    This is not a crime, nor is it a major character flaw. I have worked with dozens of leaders whom I have appreciated who have been deeply focused on themselves first and foremost. The problem is, they were not memorable, and therefore, not significant in my life.

    Oh, but I do remember those who were for me. Not only do I remember them, I revere them and value them as leaders and friends. These leaders believed in me, listened to me, and appreciated my gifts. They purposefully invested in my life in significant and valuable ways. These are leaders like Kent Humphreys, who poured himself into me to show me how to serve employees and vendors. And Johnny Bingaman, who gave up so much time and energy to listen to me and counsel me during my early entrepreneurial years. These men were definitely for me.

    Now, back to your life. Those whom you lead or serve are asking you the question: are you for them, against them, or for yourself? (Some may already think they know the answer.)

    To find out, try this exercise:
    1. Make a list of people you lead or serve within your organization.
    2. For each name, ask yourself if you are for them, against them, or for yourself.
    3. Next to that list write how you believe they see you. Do you think they think you are for them, against them, or for yourself?
    4. Now ask the question about your family members.

    Do you think most people in your life have already concluded the answer to the question? If so, how can you open the topic up again?

    As leaders, we must constantly reevaluate who we are for and why. If you can show others that you are authentically for them, you and those you lead will become far more productive.

    Here are five ways you can amplify your leadership abilities:

    1. Practice being for others. People want to know you are for them, plain and simple, so practice being for those you lead. The problem is that most of us are for ourselves. (Or at least that is what we show). Use verbal and nonverbal communication to show people that you support them.

    2. Have a vision larger than yourself. If the people you lead think that the goal of your organization is to make money to help executives lead extravagant lifestyles, your leadership is dying, if not dead. People want to work for larger purposes than bank accounts. Show them that they are working toward common, meaningful goals.

    3. Lead yourself well. This is called self-awareness. To lead yourself you must know yourself—your strengths, weaknesses, constraints, and so forth. When people see that you can lead yourself well they will trust that you have the ability to lead them.

    4. Lead intentionally. Accidental leadership is not a good strategy. To be intentional means that you have a plan to get to where you want to go. Being intentional with relationships takes time. Think about ways to help individuals develop and grow professionally. Think about long-term goals for your team and what you want them to focus on. Make intentionality a part of your culture.

    5. Think bigger for others’ sake. Thinking bigger involves looking at the big picture. When we think bigger we take a long-term view and make decisions that benefit the entire team and the organization. We look at multiple issues at once and seek input from others to gain the benefit of seeing things from various perspectives. When we think bigger we benefit ourselves and others.

    The leaders who tend to have the most profound impact on others’ lives are those whose focus is on being for others. These are the leaders who truly make a difference in their organizations and in the lives of their employees. They are the people we not only remember, but revere.