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Boost Your Leadership Skills by Disciplining Yourself in The Way of The Question Mark

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Every leader needs to have experienced and grown through following — learning to be dedicated, observant, and capable of working with and learning from others, never servile, always truthful. Having located these qualities in himself, he can encourage them in others. – Warren G. Bennis

I am often asked to come to organizations and give their employees motivational speeches. I reply that I am not a motivational speaker. Never have been. Never will be. I do not want to be. I do something else. I teach their people how to become motivational leaders. That is a far more productive endeavor.

The concept and application of motivation are misunderstood in most organizations. The motivational industry is based on a fundamental contradiction because the focus of reason is misplaced. Leaders (salespeople included) should be motivated. If they are not, they should not be leaders. 

Here is where the focus should be, not on the leaders themselves but on the people they lead. Can those leaders transfer their motivation to other people, so those people are as motivated as they are about the challenges they face? 

Furthermore: Can those people who "catch" the motivation of their leaders then go out and motivate others -- and those others go out themselves and inspire still others ... and on and on? 

Finally, can people at each phase of this "cascading of cause leaders" translate motivation into action that continually achieves results, not just average but faster?

I have authored articles on motivation and how to transfer your inspiration to others.

But there is another way to transform your motivation to others that do not take explaining. It is surprisingly simple, easy to use, and effective. Yet few leaders I have met use it, and those who use it do not use it well. 

It is the Way of the Question Mark. A "way" is a course of life one undertakes to advance in a particular discipline.


The Way of the Question Mark: It is not simply a technique; you will find it is a disciplined life course. (I have been using it for years and am still far from mastering it. Because the question mark is often particularly proper in a highly charged emotional situation. However, in such cases, emotions are getting the better of me, and it takes practice and discipline to step back, gather my thoughts, and ask a question.) 

Practicing the Way of the Question Mark can enhance your relationships with the people you lead, giving you more results as a leader. 

In all your leadership endeavors, make a conscious effort to put a question mark on what would otherwise be declarative sentences. 

Asking the question rather than using a declarative is usually more effective because it gets people reflecting upon their situation. We cannot motivate anyone to do anything. They must motivate themselves. And they best encourage themselves when reflecting on their character and situation. The question prompts people to answer, and they may engage in such reflection when they are responding. You may not like the answer, but often their answer, no matter what it is, is better in terms of advancing results than your declaration. Also, answering the question may prompt them to think they have produced an innovative idea. People are less enamored of your great ideas than their beliefs, even if those ideas are simply average.

For instance, your organization needs people from point A to point B. An order leader might say, "Go from A to B." 

Practicing the Way, one might ask: "Tell me what you think about going from A to B?" or "What's the best way for you to go from A to B?" or "Tell me how I can support you going from A to B?"  or "How will you take leadership of others going from A to B?"

Mind you, I am not talking about pandering to people's whims. I am talking motivation, motivating people to get more results faster continually. (You cannot order people to get more results continually. Only motivated people can do it.)  I am talking about challenging people to undertake extraordinary things, to be better than they think. 

The question mark, as opposed to the simple declarative, opens a world of results-producing possibilities. And it is a world predicated on their choices.

Make the Way of the Question Mark your way. Discipline yourself to ask questions rather than make statements. You will start getting more results. 

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