most important question to ask about a leader

The Most Important Question to Ask About a Leader

“If I’m ever in doubt about whether a leader is making a positive impact on my organization, I ask myself this most important question, Would I want my child working for this person?
If the answer is no, I know I need to make the tough call.”
– David Alexander, President at Adecco Group

Talent is tricky. Despite your best intentions, competency models, nine-box grids, and calibrated performance sessions, sometimes the wrong guy ends up in the wrong seat for the wrong reason — and wreaks havoc on your organization.

The more vetted the choice, the trickier it is to question the impact. Add a spike in KPIs, and it’s even more tempting to look the other way.

And yet, when you’ve got a leader in the wrong job, the downstream impact is pricy.

Everyone’s watching. “So they value churn and burn behaviors here. I see how it is…”

The jerks feel validated and step up their game, and your high EQ talent entertains the next call they get from a recruiter.

The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself When You’re On the Fence About Promoting a Leader

I met David Alexander at an Adecco leadership development off-site where we were speaking.

After a few fantastic conversations, I chose a later flight home so I could stick around to hear from the wisdom of the president’s panel discussion. After all, they are recognized as a great place to work – they’re doing something right.

One question for the panel was “What do you look for in a senior leader?”

Bam. That was the obvious question for this group of high-potential talent aspiring to be the next seat on the panel.

I haven’t stopped thinking about what David said next.

“I ask myself: would I want my child working for this person?”

It really comes down to that, doesn’t it?

We know immediately what we want for our children as they enter the workforce. And it’s not just what’s easy or fun. If we’re real, we know it was the really tough stuff that helped us grow. AND, we also hope they’ll find some people to help them navigate the chaos.

Why would we want anything but the best developmental experience for other people’s children?

Which got me thinking of the next series of questions about what I hope for my two sons.

Dear leader to whom I’m entrusting my kids (and yours)


Share a compelling vision.

Challenge them.

Hold them (and others) accountable.

Model collaboration.

Do what you say.

Give them tough feedback.

Give them something important to do.

Speak frankly.

Explain why.

Tell them the truth.

Help them understand what they don’t know.

Ask them great questions that make them think.

Encourage them.

Ensure they understand the bigger picture.

Let them fail and help him pick up the pieces.

Nurture their patience to dig deeper for better answers.

Get to know them.

Let them do something you think they might be able to do, even if they’re not quite ready.

Care about what matters more to them more than this job and find small ways to help.

How about you? What are your best hopes for leaders as they look to grow our next generation of leaders? What matters most?

Update: Well this is fun. Thank you Perugini for sharing this concept with your community on your Italian blog, Lettera aperta a un nuovo Leader (for readers who don’t speak Italian, I found Google Translate to do a lovely job 😉