Students, staff members learn to ask better questions on leadership day

October 4, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Students and staff members at Wayland Baptist University were challenged to change their thinking in all areas of life during Friday’s Leadership Day, which included chapel, the High Plains Leadership Summit luncheon and an afternoon staff development workshop.

Guest speaker for all three events was Kristin Lindeen of QBQ, Inc., a Denver-based company that speaks to corporate and school groups nationwide about the concept of “The Question Behind the Question” and the issue of personal accountability. 

Lindeen grabbed the crowd’s attention immediately with a story about a youth camping trip in which she backed into another sponsor’s borrowed minivan with her own borrowed minivan while on a stop at a convenience store. While her initial reaction was to ask all sorts of “lousy questions,” as she called them – including “Who parks behind someone?” “Why does this always happen to me?” and “why don’t other people learn how to drive?” – instead she took the opportunity to set an example for the junior high school students in her care to ask the QBQ and take a more accountable approach.

“We asked the question, ‘What can we do to solve this problem and move on?’” Lindeen said. “It could have blown up but it didn’t because we were practicing the QBQ. Have you noticed how we tend to focus on what others have done and everyone else except us? But no one else is ultimately in charge of our actions.”

Lindeen said that story and countless others demonstrate the more positive outcomes that can occur when people step back in a tense situation and ask the “question behind the question.” The formula for the better questions is three-fold: it begins with what or how, contains an I – because as she said, really the only person we can change is ourself – and focuses on action.

With the Wayland staff, Lindeen offered suggestions for better questions in dealing with common work situations. Instead of “Why do we have to go through all this change?” the better question is “What can I do to adapt to the changing world and continue to improve myself.”

“The QBQ takes us to better places and helps us make better choices in what we think and say,” she said. “We spend a lot of time trying to change other people when really the only person I can change is me.”

Lindeen offered a biblical background for the concept, found in Matthew 7, when Jesus told the parable of the planks and the specks. Specifically, she focused on verses 3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

“The QBQ is about looking first to myself and changing myself instead of trying to change other people first,” Lindeen said.

Practicing this idea of personal accountability through the QBQ helps avoid three traps that lead to loss of productivity, hurt relationships and basic ineffectiveness. The first is victim-thinking, which Lindeen said is basically whining. Lousy questions that begin with “why” and have a “poor-me” feel to them lead to this type of thinking and brings everyone down around you.

The second trap is procrastination, which Lindeen said seems like not that big of a deal to most folks but really speaks to our character. Asking questions that begin with “when” in essence put the responsibility off ourselves to get things accomplished because we are waiting for someone else to do something. Instead, she said, we should ask what we can do to get through a situation.

The third trap is blame, and Lindeen pointed out that the damages can be great in this area as teams face lack of trust, immobility and bitterness. These involve questions that begin with “who” and have a finger-pointing tone. Lindeen shared a story of a chore chart she constructed while sharing a townhouse in college with five other girls. The meticulous member of the group, she said she regularly reminded her friends of the chores and who had not kept up their end of the responsibilities. In the end, she said the friendships suffered, all because of the blame game.

“The best thing we can do in any situation is to ask the ultimate QBQ: What can I do to let go of what I can’t control?” she said.

Lindeen closed her sessions with a story of her family driving down the highway, noting a wheelchair-bound young man dragging himself across an open field chasing newspapers that had flown out of his truck while on a delivery route. After the family helped the man gather the papers up, they asked what happened and marveled that he would have drug himself by the elbows – he had been injured in a wreck and could not use his legs – to grab the flying papers.

“We asked him, ‘were you planning to gather all these papers up yourself?’ and he looked at us and said, ‘well, of course, it was my mess,’” Lindeen said. “Life is like that. It’s our mess. We may not totally be to blame for what has happened but we can take responsibility for what we can do to clean up the mess.”

Lindeen’s father, John Miller, founded the QBQ company and has written three books, including QBQ, Flipping the Switch and Outstanding: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional.