Companies & Industries

Three Questions for the Candidates


If the answer is "no" to any of these questions, don't put your faith and opportunities for success in their hands

There's been a common theme among many of the current candidates for President of the United States. The basic message is, "I'm not George Bush." That doesn't give very much insight into what kind of leader a person is going to be. It's easy to be anti-Bush. I think most people would agree that George W. Bush hasn't been our most effective or popular President.

To be a good President, a leader has to have a real platform. He or she has to possess a vision for the country and know a way to take it there. But that's only the starting point. The person must be the right kind of leader, and I believe you can find that out by asking three questions—no matter what party you belong to or what ideology you embrace.

Here are the questions you should be asking as you watch and listen to the candidates during the coming year:

Question 1: Can You Help Me?

This may seem like a selfish question, but the reality is that it's the leader's job to make things better for the people he or she leads. You should never follow a leader who isn't capable of helping you. What's the point? Why "get in line" if nothing is going to be better for you when all is said and done? It would be a waste of time and energy.

Before accepting a leadership position, people should always ask themselves whether they will help others by taking it. That is the only legitimate reason to be a leader—to help others. If you can't make things better for people, don't try to lead; leave that to someone else.

How can you tell if a leader is successful? How can you tell how he or she is doing? Look at the people. If the people who follow are doing well, then the leader is doing the job. Don't listen to the candidates' promises. Look at the people they've been leading and that will tell you a lot.

Question 2: Do You Care About Me?

The previous question addresses the area of competence. It looks at a person's ability to help others. This second question addresses the heart, and looks at a leader's desire to help others.

There are plenty of leaders, particularly in the political world, who don't care. They are preoccupied with their own agendas, their own advancement, their own paths to power. They want to lead because they can, but their hearts are hollow. Once again, look at candidates' track records and how they have treated their followers to gauge the state of their hearts. The key is to look at how they treat people who can do nothing for them. Do those leaders help that group—even if they aren't helping with the campaign? Even if those people won't vote for them? Leaders who care serve their people and try to help them even when it hurts.

Question 3: Can I Trust You?

This third and final question addresses the issue of character. It's not enough for a leader to have talent, experience, and a desire to help others. For leaders to be effective, they must possess consistently good character. They must not only possesses integrity of the highest caliber, they must also be disciplined enough to follow through on what they promise. In other words, they must be entirely trustworthy.

Followers put a lot at risk when they decide to follow a leader. They put their hopes and dreams on the line. They place their well-being and opportunities for success in their leaders' hands. It would be wise for a leader to always keep that in mind. Leading others is a trust, not a perk. It's a privilege, not a right. Based on these three questions, how do you think the current candidates are doing?

I must admit that I do have a strong political point of view. There are values I live by. There is a political philosophy I embrace. But I am also highly pragmatic. What use is a philosophy if you can't implement it? What good is a point of view if you can't win anyone else to it? What good is a leader who can't bring people together, get them to share their best ideas, and then inspire them to work together for the common good? What good is a leader who cannot truly lead?

The next time you consider following any kind of leader—political or otherwise—ask those three questions. They will help you separate the pretenders from the contenders.

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold over 13 million books. His organizations have trained more than 2 million business, government, and military leaders worldwide. Dr. Maxwell writed My Leadership Perspective for BusinessWeek.com/Managing once a month.

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