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.”

By: Linda Dean & Jake Hreha

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?”

What is a servant leader?

Robert Greenleaf 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 serve, to serve first.” 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?”

Robert Greenleaf, born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1904, was the founder of the servant leadership movement. Greenleaf believed that you are a servant first and can become a leader through serving.

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).

How can you incorporate servant leadership into your role?

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”?

Choosing to be a servant leader is valuable wherever you are. Being a servant leader can be incorporated into many aspects of your life. Consider incorporating a servant leadership approach into the activities you participate in, the organizations you are a part of and the relationships you have with others. If you lead an organization with a different leadership style you can still use servant leadership characteristics in the ways you orchestrate and influence those around you.

Servant leadership theory teaches us that no matter what position you hold in an organization, choosing to be a servant first is what matters. No matter the leadership styles of your superiors, choosing to be a servant leader impacts the people around you. Building community, supporting one another's emotional health, and striving towards organizational goals can all be done with servant leadership.

When you choose to be a servant it means you care about the success of a team member more than your own. You understand that lifting others up and putting them in a position to be successful cultivates a culture of supporting team members and a commitment to the growth of the mission not just yourself.

The first step towards becoming a servant leader can look different for each person. One way to become a servant leader is by taking responsibility of welcoming a new team member into your organization. This act of service can transform the day to day realities of a new team member's journey when joining your organization. They may have worries and uncertainty about their new situation but by you stepping into the servant role, you instantly become a supportive and effective leader in their eyes. Where traditional leadership may be providing someone with all the information about starting on the team, servant leadership is being willing to take a step away from your personal responsibilities and welcoming someone with your time and excitement for their success.

At Indiana Wesleyan University, we’re committed to equipping people with the tools they need to achieve success – both in their careers and in their roles as servant leaders. If you want to refine your skills and expand your potential, find a program that resonates with you.

Linda Dean

Adjunct Professor, IWU

Linda Dean recently retired as Manager, HR Administration at DMAX, Ltd., a Tier 1 automotive manufacturing supplier of light duty diesel engines. She has extensive experience in Human Resources in all major areas of HR and has also been involved in one plant shut down and two plant launches. She serves as key adjunct faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University where she has also been involved in instructional design and course development. She is also adjunct faculty at Wright State University in the Raj Soin College of Business and an adjunct instructor in business and human resource classes at Edison State Community College. Linda and her husband Jim have two adult children, one grandchild, and are members of Christian Life Center Church in Dayton, Ohio.

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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