Subscribe to the DTBG Weekly BlogSubscribe Now

It’s the wrong question.

Brian Willis

I was recently listening to an interview with Jim Collins on Ryan Hawk’s The Learning Leader Show. During that interview Collins shared advice he received from Peter Drucker in December of 1994. Collins was struggling with the decision to leave his teaching position at Stanford and go out on his own. A friend asked if he would be interested in sitting down with Peter Drucker to get some advice. Jim Collins jumped at the opportunity as Drucker was considered by many to be the greatest thinker in the field of management in that era and Jim Collins was a huge fan of his work.

Near the end of their time together they got to this decision Collins was struggling with. Collins says Drucker told him, “You seem to spend a lot of time worrying if you will survive and you will probably survive, and you worry about if you will be successful. It’s the wrong question.  The question is, “How to be useful?” Collins says that question was like a giant slap upside the head and that question has guided his life and his work to this day.

How many people in leadership positions, or striving to attain a leadership position, are asking the wrong questions? How many are worried about whether they will be successful in the promotion competition, if they will be successful as a leader, if they will be a high performer and gain the recognition of their bosses, or if they will be able to exceed the set goals and get a bonus at the end of the year.

Regardless of where you are in your organization one of the questions you need to continually ask is. “How can I be useful?” How can you be useful to your peers? How can you be useful to your customers or clients? How can you be useful to your boss? How can you be useful to your organization? If you are in a formal leadership role it reminds you to be of service to the team you have the privilege to lead.

The question “How can I be useful?” puts you in a mindset of contribution, collaboration and commitment. It puts us in a mindset of service to others. It reminds us to focus on what we control, which is attitude, effort and process.

“How can I be useful?” is a far different, and far more important question than, “How can I be successful?” The key to being a good leader is to embrace the power of great questions. “How can I be useful?” is one of those great questions.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop can help you on your leadership journey.

Brian Willis