Building Leaders through Questions

The Magic of Questions for Breakthrough Leadership



One of the most important motivations for my work is to help as many people as I possibly can realize that everyone is a leader. If you stop for just a moment and truly consider what leadership really is, this foundational truth becomes startlingly clear: leadership is simply the practice of making decisions. All of us are constantly leading because we are constantly making decisions. For example, when you made the decision to use your time to read this blog from the hundreds of other choices you could have selected, you demonstrated self-leadership. As you apply the ideas, skills, and principles you gain from the blog, you will extend your self-leadership out to others through your example and your new actions.


When you realize that leadership is the process of making decisions, it becomes apparent that all decisions begin with questions. We’re constantly asking ourselves questions about what things mean to us, and what to do next. As a result, it becomes crystal clear that quality leadership is first a function of enabling questions rather than answers. Through questions you enable others to accept their greatest of all birthrights--the gift of personal responsibility. When I attended a two-day seminar led by W. Edwards Deming the legendary leader of the total quality movement in business, and the chief architect of the remarkable economic turnaround in Japan in the 1950s, my most indelible memory was of his method of fielding questions. Rather than answering them, he nearly always deflected the question directly back to the questioner. In his deep, scholarly voice he would ask, “Yes, well, what do you think?” whereupon the individual would often answer his or her own question with insight, creativity, and new understanding. Deming understood that by giving the answer he would provide information bits, but by instead asking the question, he would ignite penetrating thought and facilitate discovery. His goal was to help his students gain real understanding so they could apply the concepts appropriately in their own situation. This required that the student take full responsibility for learning rather than merely memorizing. It was a brilliant and occasionally startling approach to enabling others.

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