4 Questions Every Leader Needs to Answer

Why do I want to lead? If you don’t have a compelling reason to lead, others probably won’t have a compelling reason to follow. True leadership isn’t about status, but results; it isn’t what you’re called, but what you do.

A clear leadership purpose creates three payoffs:

  1. It motivates. A higher purpose is the fuel for your leadership efforts. Goals alone don’t motivate you; purpose propels.
  2. It focuses. When you have a sense of priorities, you can avoid distractions and wasting time on things that don’t serve that greater purpose.
  3. It provides resilience. Purpose creates staying power when you meet resistance. Lacking a compelling purpose, many fold when they encounter difficulties and setbacks. Purpose creates leaders who last.

What kind of leader do I want to be? I believe the principles of good leadership never change, but they can be and are applied uniquely by different leaders. Substance is a given for effective leadership, but style is a personal choice. Have you given any thought to the kind of leader you want to be? Authenticity is about being who you appear to be. It is congruency between public presentation and perception, and personal beliefs and behaviors. Style never replaces substance, but it has the power to leverage or diminish it. Choose carefully what kind of leader you desire to be and craft it carefully.

Who will I follow? Leaders are rarely developed in isolation. We all emulate to learn. If we emulate effective leaders, we become effective leaders. Emulate the wrong kind of leaders, and we imprint negative behaviors. You can learn from a bad leader (what not to do), but emulation is about acting like or performing as the leader you follow. Choosing who you follow determines both how effectively you use your time and talent to contribute and the lessons that you learn. (And it is very difficult to learn the real lessons of leadership outside of a living example.)

How will I continue to improve? Sad is the day when any of us think we are as good as we will ever be. Ultimately, no one can force you to keep improving, but it is one of the great opportunities and challenges of life and leadership. The better you become, the harder it is to get better. Improvements in your thinking and skills go from being big jumps in your early years to tiny increments the longer you lead. Before identifying how you’ll get better, it’s important to deal with your motivations. The intrinsic reasons include a commitment to being the best you can be, the excitement of new challenges and a desire to make a bigger positive impact.

Extrinsic motivations include things like competition within your organization for advancement, and competition from other firms who desire your customers and market share.

If you don’t truly desire to improve, you won’t. Important growth doesn’t happen by accident.

Growth in your leadership abilities requires at least three things:

  1. Study
  2. Example and/or Mentors
  3. Experience

The best leaders continue to get better. You’ll never be the best you’ll ever be. You can only be the best you are right now.


Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Mark is an international best-selling author and noted authority on leadership, team-building, customer service and change. Mark is the author of eight books, including the best seller The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary, which has sold more than 1.6 million copies internationally. Learn more about Mark at



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