What Drives the Greatest Leaders?

When assessing the potential of future leaders, we often forget to ask one key question: How much do you love leading people?

Over years, I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful leaders. Upon reflection, the best of the best have one quality in common. They love leading people and they are passionate about it!

What do great leaders look like?

One of my best friends is Frances Hesselbein. Frances is the former CEO of the Girl Scouts and now chairman of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. Whenever Frances discusses her work as a leader, her eyes sparkle and her face glows. No matter what personal or professional challenges she is facing, she is always upbeat, positive, and inspirational. Frances defines leadership as “circular,” with the leader reaching across the organization to colleagues, not down to subordinates. Her motivation has never come from the outside, meaning from money or status. Instead, it has always come from the inside, from her love of service and what she does.

Another wonderful friend of mine is Alan Mulally, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Aircraft and Ford Motor Company. Alan was named by Fortune Magazine #3 top leader in the world in 2014. Needless to say he is a fantastic leader and I am not the only one who thinks so! At Ford and Boeing, Alan faced many challenges that would make most people want to give up. He didn’t give up and led Ford through one of the most successful turnarounds in history.

I have never seen Alan get down on himself, his people, or his company. He has an infectious enthusiasm that radiates to the people around him and an almost childlike joy in what he does. He once told me: “Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me.” Alan’s love of what he does enables him to work incredible hours, face daunting adversity, and serve as a leader with a smile on his face. His personal example says more about leadership than his words can ever convey.

How much do you love leading people?

To assess your leadership potential, ask yourself: “On a scale of one to 10, how much do I love leading people?” If you have never been in a leadership role, ask yourself, “How much do I think that I will love leading people?” If your score is low, you may want to rethink that prospect of becoming a leader.

Although high levels of leadership may bring status, power, or money, these benefits come at a cost. Almost all great leaders work extremely hard, take their jobs very personally, are subject to ongoing (and often unfair) criticism, and pay a price for their success.

Find reward on the inside!

If you love leading people like Frances Hesselbein and Alan Mulally, leadership will be a joy and service will be a blessing.

If you do not love leading people, leadership will be an ongoing pain.

Don’t become a leader because you are looking for reward from the outside. Become a leader only if you will find your reward on the inside.

When you stand up to lead, the people that you are serving will not just be listening to your words, they will be looking into your eyes. Ultimately, you will not be able to fool them or fool yourself.

You can only inspire the people you are leading if you are inspired to lead.


Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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