One must lead by example, as Francis Bacon noted when he said: “He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both.” To this, George Eliot might add: “Blessed is the . . . [person] who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.”
A mistaken notion of those who are naïve about the nature of leadership is to equate giving advice with giving good counsel. Counseling must not be confused with dispensing information or advice. The role of a leader as counselor is to help another person (or group of people) discover, usually through questions, their own solutions and direction and to recognize their own freedom to act. A leader’s task is to ask questions in such a way that a person can most easily make wise choices and find sufficient courage to act for the benefit of the people at large and thus willingly accept the consequences of their decisions.
It’s not a leader’s task to direct a person’s thinking by giving advice and thereby limiting the person’s ability to act freely from their own conscience. After all, a person is responsible for the outcome of their decisions.
Unfortunately, too many leaders fall into the trap of believing they are leading only when being prescriptive and imparting advice to their constituents—even other leaders. It is therefore critical to understand the power of the questions we ask.
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Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.
This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.