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The Fundamental Question


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The fundamental question | It's about the leader | It's about others | See also


There is a fundamental question that all leaders should ask themselves, or perhaps they should be asked it by others.

The fundamental question

The fundamental question for all leaders is:

Who is it all for?

Leaders seek to lead people to other places, to create change or new things. But why? What is motivating them? Who is it all for?

There are two answers they can truthfully give. First of all, it can be for me (the leader). Or it can be for other people. Or even 'the world' or 'society' which is another way of saying other people. Creating great products or achieving ideals can also work as 'not for me'.

It's about the leader

If the answer is 'it's for me', that it is about satisfying the personal needs of the leader. In truth, this is more common than many leaders would like to admit. It is not necessarily about narcissism and is quite a normal thing for many people to do. But things are different when you are seeking to be a leader.

Leaders have a basic requirement to attract followers. If the person is a manager with subordinates who do as they are told, then this is not leadership. The same people may become a leader and followers but this is different. Followership is voluntary.

Would you passionately follow a leader who is motivated this way? Would you work 'above and beyond' just to polish the leader's ego? Quite likely not. Few people are that concerned about making the boss look good.

The bottom line, if the leader is fundamentally doing things for their own purpose, is that they will, quite likely, be unsuccessful.

It's about others

If the real purpose of the leader is to help other people or the wider society (which is other people by another name), then they are focusing outside themselves. Likewise if they are seeking to achieve great things. To achieve this external purpose they need to encourage followers to do the same. This is quite different from wanting others to help them achieve an internal, inwardly-focused purpose.

Would you passionately follow a leader who is motivated this way? Quite possibly you would, if the purpose seemed good or exciting. And this is how it turns out.

When the leader focuses on an external purpose, they ask followers to stand at their side, focusing likewise on achieving the same thing. This is wholly different from the situation where the leader focuses inwards and asks followers to focus outwards (and into the leader). 

External focus has a broad domain that includes developing new products or other 'non-me' activities that can be linked to other people, whether it is customers or whoever.

The bottom line, if the leader is fundamentally doing things for others, is that they will, quite likely, be successful.

See also



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