The power of asking questions

- Francis J. Kong - The Philippine Star

Motivational speakers scream: “Believe in yourself!”

“You can be anything you want as long as you believe it!”

Personalities belonging to the prosperity gospel genre shout: “Just believe it, confess it, then claim it!”

I am not too sure about these statements, but during my days in high school, I have always believed that I can slam-dunk and play in the professional basketball league. It never happened though.

You will be amazed at the number of young people who chant this, scream this and think that this is the way to be successful. I am very critical, skeptical and cynical with this line of teaching-training though and I will explain the reason why.

Hindsight is 20-20. History is a good teacher. Looking back at my own life, had I believed in myself naively and obediently as to what those “motivational speakers” told me to do, I might be living in poverty and shame today.

Many of my beliefs were faulty and needed to be checked with reality. Many of them have been corrected though and the one most important thing I have learned in life is to question the self rather than believing the self.

To constantly ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing? And is there anything to improve on?” This way I gain more knowledge, accept corrections, and then proceed to the next level of competence. The sign of an intelligent mind is not having mindless beliefs, but having “meaningful doubts” instead.

Dallas Willard, who is recognized as one of the 10 most influential thinkers in America who led the Philosophy Department of USC says, “We need to doubt our doubts and doubt our beliefs.”

Even INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra says, “When you say, ‘Believe in yourself,’ you need to seriously challenge yourself with the question: which self is this? Is this the self of the past, the present or the future?”

Questions are powerful. People in organizations and children in the home should be trained and encouraged to ask questions rather than to be taught to just “believe in themselves.” People who persist in asking questions should be encouraged, not punished.

Unfortunately, people who ask questions are perceived to be the ones whose loyalty cannot be trusted. Vibrant and progressive business organizations intentionally build a company culture of encouraging their people to ask questions as this leads to idea generation and creative insights.

As I keep repeating in many of my talks and trainings, “Ideas are the currencies for the future.”

Progressive leaders encourage their people to ask questions. Questions open people towards their own assumptions and lay down the atmosphere for meaningful exchanges of ideas.

I am willing to wager that people who ask questions are those who do not have this simplistic mindset of “believing in themselves” but they surely want to know more and learn more so they can do more and be more.

Rather than teaching our children to “believe in yourself,” it would be better to train them to have an inquisitive mind and to encourage them to ask questions.

The one question children always ask is “why.” Do not dismiss them by saying, “Because I told you so….” And just to teach them later on in life to, “Believe in yourself!” This does not make sense, does it?

When unequipped leaders demand, “I do not care how you are going to do it, just do it and stop asking questions…..” And when institutions frown on people questioning them for their actions and conclude that their loyalty is now in question (pun intended), you begin to see the slow and sure demise of the organization’s lack of creative and innovative ideas that can prepare them for the challenges of a changing future.

Learn the art and science of asking questions. Don’t just “believe in yourself,” but rather question yourself constantly whether what you are doing is adding value to your work performance and whether your decision leads to character development.

This is how you achieve the means to get to the next level in your quest for success. Be willing to be corrected in the process. Park the ego in the company parking lot and move on to your next level.

Even the person who got to top of the mountain did not happen to just get there. There is a climb involved in the process. And that climb, no doubt, involved a lot of questions and determined actions.

Sure, the person may have “believed” that he has the capacity to get to the top, but the climb, the hard work, and the training makes that possible.

(Start the New Year right with Francis Kong. Sign up to update and upgrade your leadership and life skills with his highly acclaimed “Level Up Leadership” workshop seminar on January 13-14 at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel. For further inquiries contact Inspire at 09158055910 or call 632-6310912 or 6310660 for details.)

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