What makes for the best kind of leader? It's a question that produces an infinite number of opinions. And how do you know whether or not to hire/promote a leader into a role that has substantive people responsibilities (or how to improve your own candidacy in this scenario)? This is especially difficult to answer if there are several candidates, all of whom have produced results and seem to be high-potential employees.

I recently came across an important take on these age-old questions, from the co-author of Winning Well, Karin Hurt. Karin was at a leadership conference and was stopped in her tracks by a panel response she heard from an esteemed leader. The question, she expected. The answer, she did not. Nor would have I.

Q: "What do you look for in a senior leader?"

A: "I ask myself, would I want my child working for this person?"

Yes, this.

So insightful. Think about it--asking this while considering who to hire/promote instantly combs out candidates who put up big numbers, got the job done, but did so while leaving bodies (and integrity) behind. You most certainly wouldn't want your child, or anyone else's, in the path of that.

Great leaders have a vast array of characteristics. But what discerns a leader so great that you'd want your child working for him/her creates a different, more finite answer.

It goes to what our core job was/is as a parent and the needs to fulfill that don't dissipate just because our children have entered the workforce. They're things you'd want for your children if they were still living under your roof, learning their way through a crazy world.  They're the same things that are fundamental to a winning workplace culture.

With this in mind, these are the three clarifying questions I would ask about all candidates for promotion/hiring. Ask them of yourself, too, to see if you clear the bar. 

1. Will they/you be invested in and make the investment in employees?

When it comes to my daughter's future bosses, more than anything I want them to care about her--enough so to invest in her personal and professional growth. I'd want them to do the hard work of giving her helpful, honest feedback, to take the time to show how valued she is, to help her become the best version of herself, to help ensure she's doing meaningful work, to help her get career opportunities, and to mentor her after the fact.

My daughter shouldn't corner the market on all of this--this nurturing belongs to everyone.

2. Are they/you a champion of others self-confidence?

Scads of research point to the long-standing issue of compromised emotional well-being on college campuses--notoriously low due to low levels of self-esteem and the pressure students put on themselves. For example, one study from the Yale College Council cited that more than half of all Yale undergraduates sought mental health help.

These are the people that will be flowing into your workforce.

But when they get into the office they'll figure it out, right? I wish it were that easy. In conducting research for my book, Find the Fire, I asked 1,000 middle managers across a wide variety of industries if in the last 6 months something at work had caused them to take a step backwards in their self-confidence.

93 percent said yes.

You'd want your child in an environment that boosts, not bursts, self-confidence. Every employee needs and deserves that. So ask yourself if the new hire/promotion candidate (or yourself) has demonstrated the propensity to:

  • Help employees learn from their failures and accept that they're not perfect.
  • Give respect, trust, empowerment, and praise.
  • Ask employees opinions, listen to the answers, then act on it.
  • Give challenging work and the support to see it through.

All of these things support self-confidence in others. And they're things that I, and I'm betting you, would disproportionately want for our ex-tenants.

3. Will they/you get the right people on the bus and all the people on the bus right?

I want my daughter to experience being a part of a winning team, driven by a leader talented at attracting talent and who has the courage to remove underperforming staff where required (research shows 83 percent of people feel their company doesn't do this). I'd also want her boss to be fair and equitable, to resist playing favorites, to see and value everyone for their uniqueness, and to be adept at driving a spirit of interdependency.

There's no force on earth like a sense of mutual accountability. I'd want my daughter, and anyone else's, to experience that.

Every employee is someone's child. I hope this lens helps clarify who you should promote or hire and/or if you make the cut.