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The most importat leadership question

The Most Important Leadership Question You’ll Ever Ask

by | Jan 11, 2021 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye, Winning Well |

When you think about leading a productive team, what’s the first question that comes to mind? How to get the right people on the team? What’s the perfect vision? Or maybe you have questions about training or infrastructure. Of course, these questions are all important, but they’re not the most important leadership question.

If you want to lead energized, motivated teams, the most important leadership question you can ask is about you. Specifically, a question about your motivations.

The question is: “Why do I want to lead?”

Five P’s

There are typically five reasons people choose to lead a team.

They are:

  1. Power
  2. Prestige/Pride
  3. Purse / Pennies / Pesos / Pounds
  4. People
  5. Purpose

Three Problematic Ps

Let’s take a look at the first three of these reasons people choose to lead a team:

Power—they want to tell people what to do.

Prestige or Pride—they feel better about themselves or enjoy the status from the title.

Purse—they take leadership roles for the money.

Leaders who turn into dreaded bad bosses often take on their leadership roles for one or more of these three reasons. Maybe they like having power and want the money that comes with it. Or perhaps their sense of well-being is wrapped up in the title.

This leads to a few problems. First, they won’t inspire your team or energize your team. They don’t care about that stuff for you.

And second, these motivations are motivation black-holes. Power is an illusion—you can’t actually make anyone do anything. It’s always their choice. The prestige fades or becomes self-defeating when you realize there’s always something more prominent. Likewise, someone will always have a nicer house or car (and the money rarely equals the headaches and responsibilities that come with real leadership).

Two Powerful Ps

Leaders accomplish results with and through people. As we say in Winning Well: it’s all about results and relationships. Those are the motivations in the final two Ps, People and Purpose.

People—serving and supporting your team or organization.

Purpose—achieving a specific mission.

The Most Important Leadership Question

To lead a productive, energetic, motivated team, start with your motivations. Be honest with yourself: Do you choose to lead in order to serve your team and accomplish meaningful results?

If you find that power, prestige, and the pull of the purse are your motivators, you will have trouble. People instinctively know when you don’t care about them or don’t care about the mission.

If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at your motivations, can you take some time to reflect on how people and purpose show up in your daily leadership?

The good news is that no matter why you started leading, it’s never too late to choose people and purpose. You can begin by filtering your decisions through two questions:

  • How will this serve the team?
  • How will this help us achieve results?

If the answer to either question is ever “It won’t”… then don’t it.

A Final Thought

We live in the real world and human beings (including us) care about money, roles, and status. People and Purpose don’t mean you eliminate your desire for the others—they just aren’t the main reasons you choose to lead.

As you prioritize people and purpose, you will find those motivations coming to mind more easily and influencing your decisions. You’ll also see your team’s productivity, energy, and motivation improve.

We’d love to hear from you: How do you keep people and purpose at the forefront of your leadership and decision-making?


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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