A Questioning Approach to Leadership
So much is written and spoken about leadership.
The key result of good leadership is changed behaviour by those who choose to follow the leader.
Of course there are many ways to achieve this change and the behaviour and actions of the leader vary from the gross and ghastly behaviour by the likes of Hitler and Attila the Hun; to the gentle, challenging and coaxing leadership of Gandhi and Mother Theresa. There are many other examples that could be used but these few examples suffice to exemplify the range of leadership styles employed by those that lead.
The style of leadership can be debated ad nauseam but the more important debate should be what are the most sustainable styles of leadership; what are the styles of leadership that are not aimed at the cornering of power by the leader, nor at his/her own personal self-aggrandisement.
It is this debate which we wish to explore on this occasion.
The big problem with the bullying, dictatorial style of management is that everything, every decision is dependent on the leader. The more power is concentrated the more this applies. Think about it: If members of the organisation are too scared to make a decision, or too fearful of challenging the leader then the entire organisation is disempowered and denied the benefit of a much broader and deeper contribution to the well-being and development of the organisation.
The additional disadvantage of this approach to leadership is that the future and health of the organisation is entirely dependent on the health and creativity of one person, no matter how much of a genius he or she may be. This is patently unsustainable.
The final negative of this approach is that it tends to encourage and support a bullying, dictatorial culture in the organisation as people tend to begin to believe that the only way ahead is to compliment the leader by behaving like he or she does.
Sadly this bullying style is all too prevalent in our country and denies the country the benefit of ensuring the development of all our people.
Let us contrast this with a more productive and developmental long term approach to leadership. A style that will encourage everyone in the organisation to be the very best that they can be.
The genius of the questioning approach to leadership is that it makes sure that everyone begins to question their own behaviour and every aspect of the business which leads to a culture of questioning and to the creativity that flows from finding solutions to these questions.
It is this approach that has been so effectively used by Gandhi, Mandela, and many others in all areas of society.
In my own experience I have watched as leaders using this approach make people feel pride and take ownership of what they are doing in a way that had been denied them by the bullying predecessors of the new leaders. By contrast I have watched people wither and begin to behave like automatons and long for the day when they can leave. The sadness is that these are the same people. Under the one regime they only follow orders while under the other they look for opportunities to make a contribution outside of the envelope and find ways of growing their own domain. The latter approach creates a culture of creativity, while the former shuts down creativity which becomes the domain of only the selected leaders.
A questioning leadership style is actually simple to implement and to maintain.
Dictatorial leadership is complex and relies entirely on the genius of the person at the top who is expected to know everything about everything. This is not humanly possible and as the organisation grows becomes less and less feasible, and is certainly unsustainable.
A few of the most important questions routinely used by the Questioning Leader are: “How do you do this?; Why are you doing things this way?; Is there any other way of approaching this issue?; Are there any other options?; What are all the options open to us?; and most importantly: What can I do to help and support you?”.
Of course this approach takes more time, but the long term results are more certain; the result is a much more deeply engaged workforce and a culture that is inherently more sustainable.
When one considers that the leaders of the biggest businesses in the world claim that the issue with which they are wrestling most at the moment is the creation of a Conscious Culture then the issue of how to lead becomes infinitely more important because leadership drives culture.
This can only happen if the Leadership is fully engaged and communicating with those that they lead!