What’s the One Great Leadership Question?

Jack Kornfield shared the one great leadership question at a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification retreat.

A European head of state sought Jack’s advice about an upcoming meeting with someone in a very powerful leadership position. He’s a difficult personality with an over inflated ego. “I’m meeting with XXX in a few days. What should I ask him?”

Jack sat quietly for a few moments, as he often does, before responding. “Why don’t you ask him, what are your greatest aspirations?

One great leadership question

There it is. One great leadership question in 5 simple words.

Leaders Answer the Great Leadership Question

I’ve been asking clients about their greatest aspirations. One of the conversations appears below.

Coach: How many people work directly for you?

Leader: I have 10 direct reports.

Coach: How many additional people in the organization are indirectly affected by your leadership?

Leader: 12,000

Coach: What if you include their families?

Leader: 48,000

Coach: What if you include their extended communities?

Leader: 80,000

Coach: You have the opportunity to impact the lives of at least 80,000 people. We haven’t even included customers or vendors. What are your greatest aspirations?

Leader: People will feel greater joy, pride and inspiration.

Coach: What mental attitudes and behaviors support your aspirations of increasing joy, pride, and inspiration? What attitudes and behaviors stand in opposition?

We continue the conversation about what the leader commits to do, and not do, to advance his/her highest aspirations.

Practice follows.

We review the impact.

When things go well, the leader experiences positive feelings.

Positive feelings are rewarding and motivate the leader to keep doing what she’s doing.

Slip-ups occur.

The leader reflects, recommits and begins again. She is actively changing her habits of mind, the mental muscles needed, to support her greatest aspirations.

Aspirational Results

As the leader tells me about the results of her practice, and the impact on those around her, she smiles. I smile in response. Our brains emit the feel good neurotransmitters - endorphins, serotonin, dopamine. We are actively experiencing joy, one of her greatest aspirations.

Imagine 80,000 people experiencing more joy and smiling more often. Smiles matter.

Here’s just a snippet from research on how smiling improves the world.

Each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives.

I implore you to ask yourself the one great leadership question. Your answer matters, in the same way that 80,000 smiles matter.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh




Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

One Great Leadership Question that Changes the World