The Most Important Question a Leader Asks


I recently began a management and leadership degree and realized something very important about leading others. I’m working on two classes and both challenge me to grow by answering a critical question, possibly the most important question- Who am I? The better I understand myself as a leader (strengths, weaknesses, personality, leadership style), the better I’ll be able to lead.

This idea was reinforced in The Leadership Challenge when the authors ask, “WHO ARE YOU? This is the first question your constituents want you to answer. Finding the answer is where every leadership journey begins” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012, p. 43). They explained that people lead best when they can authentically lead from their passions.

Right now, I’m on a journey to discover these passions for myself. I think about how the prophet Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot’” (Jer. 20:9, NIV). Have you ever felt that way about anything before? Whenever you thought about that one subject, it burned and boiled like a volcano bubbling below the surface of your soul. And if you weren’t able to talk about it, or do something about it, you were going to explode!

I wish I felt that way about more things. As a middle class American, my life is a lot more comfortable than I realize. I think we need more hills we’re ready to die on. It’s one reason I feel so inspired reading the words of Martin Luther King Jr. as he sat in a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell. He wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here….just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town….Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (1963, p. 65). When was the last time you or I felt compelled to do something? That’s passion!

We may not be MLK Jr., or the prophet Jeremiah, but God has every person on this earth for a reason. If you pursue your passion, you’ll find your purpose. So, let me ask you, “Who are you?” What do you care about? What bothers you? What do you wish could change? In what ways are you gifted that you could do good? Maybe this is a time for you to begin a journey of self-discovery too. The path of understanding ourselves as leaders is one we’ll probably be on the rest of our lives. But, it’s a necessary journey if we want to become an effective leader.

King, M. (1963). Why we can’t wait. New York: Signet Classic.
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: The Leadership Challenge.

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Also, if you’d like to read more about finding your purpose, check out Todd Wilson’s new book, “More”.