Thoughts on Leadership: Learning to Ask the Right Questions

"There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us." - Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why

Learning to lead starts with learning to ask the right questions.

In the early 1900s, no man had ever successfully piloted an airplane. A highly qualified man named Samuel Pierpont Langley was dead set on doing it. He was a senior officer at the Smithsonian Institution and mathematics professor at Harvard, and he had the devoted support of his two close friends, Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as the War Department (and its $50,000 grant).

Langley also had a dream team of some of the best minds and talents of his day, and the finest materials to work with. The press was following his every move. It seemed Langley would be the one.

But as we all know, he wasn't. So, what happened?

Wilbur and Orville Wright ended up being the first ones to take flight. These two brothers didn't have a college education and they didn't have the kind of backing that Langley did. What they did have was an enthusiastic and dedicated team of people in their hometown who helped them as they worked on their flight machine in a small bicycle shop.

The brothers didn't have the finest materials around like Langley and it was just a small group that witnessed them take flight in 1903 – not the gaggle of press Langley was getting.

What was the key to success? It obviously was not the connections, funds, education, or materials. If so, Langley would have been the first man to pilot an airplane. The key to success was why. The Wright brothers started with why. It was their greatest passion and dream to fly, and that passion inspired those around them to succeed. They truly led their team as opposed to just directing them.

The Wright brothers’ story shows that a contagious passion is the strongest component of leadership. Starting with why opens the doors – the right question.

This story is one of several that Simon Sinek examines in his book on leadership called "Start with Why." In your leadership journey, he says, it's important to start with this question of why and to learn to ask the right questions. This is because if you start with the wrong questions, eventually even the right answers will steer you the wrong way.

If two brothers who nobody knew could take this concept and become the first men to fly, then we as leaders can surely use this to truly lead our teams to success.

As Sinek says in the book, “There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us.”

“Great leaders are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired. For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal. They are less likely to be swayed by incentives. Those who are inspired are willing to pay a premium or endure inconvenience, even personal suffering. Those who are able to inspire will create a following of people- supporters, voters, customers, workers- who act for the good of the whole not because they have to, but because they want to.” - Simon Sinek