News sensationalism and politics aside, few can deny that humanity as a whole has been suffering of late. From health and safety concerns to social unrest and economic woes, it all seems to have gone pear shaped.
More than ever, we need leaders with a global mindset who can focus on a balance of health, safety and prosperity for all of humanity. We need to thoroughly evaluate those competing for leadership roles in business and government, assessing candidates for the requisite experience and asking the right questions to understand their true motivations and get to know the person behind the interview/resume mask.
Recognizing that we won’t always agree on the most worthy or qualified leader, we at least need to support candidates with eyes wide open. We must press leadership hopefuls to present their plans and supply evidence to support their assertions.
In my 15 years as a human resources executive, I have had the good fortune to interview and work with hundreds of senior and C-suite leaders in diverse roles in small to Fortune 200 organizations across the United States, Europe, Asia and South Africa. Over this period, I have come to appreciate the qualities that make a strong and effective leader who is good for business and people—and I’ve learned the importance of asking the right questions to identify frontrunners.
Below are the foundational qualities of leaders who can move humanity forward in a positive way—whether as a regional director, corporate CEO, mayor or leader of a country—together with questions that will highlight their qualities. We, as responsible citizens, must ensure we hire, place and elect authentic, big picture leaders with a proven record of fostering trust, uniting people, learning from mistakes and delivering the right results in order to usher in a better future for humanity.
CAPACITY TO INSTILL TRUST
Trust is the bedrock of leadership and the foundation of all healthy relationships, communities and cultures. When people don’t trust leaders, they fail to show respect and withhold their full support even when they may agree with decisions. A leader must build trust by demonstrating an authentic interest in caring for others, always endeavoring to do the right thing, fostering a high level of transparency and honesty, and leading by example.
When leaders are not trusted, those around them may not feel comfortable sharing their honest feedback and thoughts over fears of retribution. Leaders who fail to appreciate such a dynamic are at a disadvantage because they don’t have all the information they need to make the best decisions, and they squelch innovation and helpful ideas by instilling fear. Such leaders do not foster trust or encourage transparency in those around them, potentially leading to cover-ups or secrets.
- Consider a time others trusted you to navigate a difficult situation or solve a challenging problem. Why do you feel your supporters trusted you?
- Think back to a time you received feedback you did not like but ultimately decided to embrace to achieve a successful result. Why did you change your mind and how did you recognize the person or group who shared the feedback with you?
ABILITY TO UNITE PEOPLE
While few organizations can claim perfect execution of their ideals from the beginning, most were founded with a need for unity. Organizations, governments and communities gain strength by linking together and can only thrive by standing collectively to champion equality, human rights and the well-being of all. As such, regional and global leaders must be able to appreciate the differences in people and cultures. One size does not fit all. Pursuing an inclusive and global leadership agenda where all people feel like they belong means leaders must value all individuals and cultures and adopt a mindset of “same where possible, different where needed.”
- Give an example of a time when you effectively brought opposing sides together with a unified solution and explain how you achieved this success. What personal quality did you rely on most?
- Describe a time when you lived in, worked in or visited another country for an extended period. What did you learn about the people and culture that you did not know but now appreciate?
WILLINGNESS TO LEARN
To be human is to err. No living soul is immune to missteps and no one should be held to unattainable standards. In fact, leaders who are not making mistakes are not innovating, pushing boundaries and benefiting from the opportunity to learn and grow—and they are not giving others those same opportunities. But leaders who make mistakes and fail to learn from them, making the same ones over and over, become dangerous in their roles.
- Share a significant mistake you’ve made. What did you learn from your misstep and how have you changed your behavior as a result?
All people focus on what they genuinely care about most, regardless of their good intentions or tailored external perception. Knowing even small things leaders do outside the spotlight offers insight into what they hold dear. For example, a leader may publicly claim to be a strong advocate for the environment yet leave trash on a beach after an outing or drive a gas-guzzling vehicle rather than a fuel-efficient or electric car. What candidates care most about now will be what they care most about after they assume their roles. Authentic leaders are true to themselves and others. They walk the talk, illuminating their true nature and motives.
- What are the two causes you care about most? Why?
- Describe a time when you made a difference to a cause important to you but never shared your actions publicly.
- How would your personal interests align with your top agenda items in the role you are seeking?
BIG PICTURE THINKING
Covid-19 may have highlighted our interdependence—neighbor to neighbor, community to community, state to state and country to country—more than any other event in human history. Absent truly inclusive leadership that puts humanity first, groups are sure to be drawn into conflict at a time when tensions are highest. Leaders must understand how to work cooperatively with other leaders to build an organization and world that is safe and productive for all. They must also consider the short- and long-term ramifications of their decisions. No one benefits from an action that solves an immediate challenge but leaves a wake of broader long-term problems.
- Describe a decision you made that was not in your (or your group’s or constituents’) best interest but that you felt served a greater good. What was your argument for making the decision and how did you go about gaining support for it?
- What is your vision for humanity? What do you believe is the biggest current barrier to achieving your vision? What steps have you taken to overcome this barrier?
However the above questions are posed, we need to ask them of all candidates seeking leadership positions today. As part of a good hiring or election process, we must give candidates the opportunity to impress us with their character, integrity and experience, their ability to work with others, especially during times of crisis, their inspiring vision for the future—and the steps they will take to move us toward that vision.