The Most Important Interview Question

As I was recently scrolling through the newsfeeds on my Facebook page, I gazed upon an advertising post that had an intriguing title:  “The Most Important Interview Question.”   As a human resources professional, this piqued my interest, and I clicked on the link, hoping I had not just unknowingly introduced a major virus into my desktop.

Seeing no blue screen dump or gremlins on my computer screen, I proceeded to read the brief post with interest.  To my surprise, the question had nothing to do with skills required for the position, past job accomplishments, or any other typical questions one might expect in an interview.  Rather, it was a very simple statement: “Name four people whose careers you positively influenced.”  Restated, that could also be posed as follows: “How have you been a servant leader?”

Robert Greenleaf (1970) introduced the concept of servant leadership in his essay The Servant as Leader, writing that servant leadership begins with “the natural feeling that one wants to served” (p. 15).  Following that is a conscious choice to lead.  Finally, the best test of the effectiveness of the servant leader is to answer the question “do those served grow as persons?” (p. 15).

I pondered the question.  When looking back over the trajectory of my career—as I rose through the ranks and had various opportunities to impact the careers of those who would follow me—whom had I impacted?   Were there opportunities I had missed or had knowingly let pass by me?

I recall discussing career opportunities with the employee who started as a production worker and attended night school for ten years while earning his engineering degree.  Upon attaining his degree, he was promoted to an engineering position and later became supervisor of the engineering group.

A young high-potential employee had enough trust in me, the “HR lady,” to discuss career opportunities outside the company without fear of disclosure or reprisal.  In yet another case, an employee who was facing a major life crisis was referred to the company EAP program for counseling and support and was able to successfully work through his very trying situation, retaining his position at a time when his supervisor was proposing termination.

Even though several years have passed, those individuals still comment on the role my assistance and support played in their lives and careers.  By merely doing my job, little did I know that I was actually a servant leader, serving as someone who “shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible” (Robert K. Greenleaf Center, n.d., para. 4).

Take a moment to reflect on your career:

  • Are you a servant leader?
  • Do you equip and empower others?
  • How would you respond if asked ‘the most important interview question’: “Name four people whose careers you positively changed”?

Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. (n.d.).). The servant as leader. Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-     leadership/.

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