Application of the Six Intelligent Leadership Questions

Reflection (Review) and Reflexivity (Response)

You will recall that we began this portal chapter by outlining the meaning of collective leadership emphasising that the public interest is served at the individual as well as the team, organisation and network levels. In explaining the need to know yourself and know others we said that critical reflection is a process that is crucial to learning. We made the distinction between reflection and reflexivity. Remember that reflection is about thinking back on our actions (as either individual leaders or collective leadership) by looking in the mirror whereas reflexivity looks forward with a view to finding ways in which you/we can proactively question our own processes of thinking in relation to both the situation and the relationships with others. This is looking through the mirror to the future.

Both reflection and reflexivity form the basis of critical reflection which lends itself to reviewing our immediate and past actions as a form of reflection and determining leadership responses reflexively in proposing actions for future and continuous service and organisational improvement. Our Six Intelligent Leadership Questions will prove very helpful in guiding our thinking.

A Framework for the Six Intelligent Leadership Questions
From the Interrogative to an Integrative Purpose

You may have read the introduction to the Selfless Leader at the start of this portal and, in particular, noted that the Six Intelligent Leadership Questions apply throughout the application of our framework and model for collective leadership. The origin and description of each of the questions were illustrated on our landing page. We repeat these below as the six questions form the basis of our understanding of collective leadership generally and the application of our Leadership Quomodo specifically. However, we show here how these six questions derive from the original classical framework of the Eight Latin circumstances and intentions.

In introducing the classic framework we first apply a modern perspective on the utility of this wisdom which – as Surprenant (2004) argued in citing Brooks (2001) – the questions were used in support of classic interrogation of confessants in characterising the sin committed. As Brooks reminds us:

“these questions …” (Quis, cury quomodo, quando (‘Who, what, where, with what manner, when?’)) … “were generally used to drive inquisitorial procedures in ecclesiastical courts” (Brooks, 2001: 185).

It is likely that the classic interrogative questions would take on more of a negative accusatorial stance rather than an objective means of asking intelligent questions to determine an appropriate style of action to tackle a particular problem. We apply the questions in a more objective and developing way!



The eight circumstances or intentions described in the previous section provide the foundation for six intelligent leadership questions.  For the purposes of the three most important of these questions, our Leadership Quomodo asks:

Cur quomodoque ducere possumus, quo fine?®

Why and how can we lead, to what end?

We began this portal chapter by describing the importance of reflection and reflexivity; recall


Start with Why:

Asking “why?” helps to uncover what leadership acts are required.  Some circumstances or happening will show that a leadership challenge exists.  It can be something as simple as a decision that needs to be made to change working patterns, something as complex as setting out a plan to restructure an organisation or taking an immediate decision in response to an evolving crisis situation.  In all cases, leaders should start with why as It identifies the purpose of carrying out the leadership act.  In this regard, we agree with Simon Sinek’s classic work of the same title  (Sinek, 2011).  It provides the motivation for the leadership act.

We differ from Sinek in the order in which we ask the remaining questions and, of course, we promote a total of six rather than three questions.  Sinek suggests that we start with WHY (purpose), then HOW (values and actions and differentiators), and then WHAT (products and results). We reverse the order of HOW and WHAT.

 To what end (identifying the leadership challenge)?

Sinek argues that the ‘what?’ question is simply about organisations knowing what they do (whether creating products or selling services). We view this question more widely. The classic Latin framework asks three ‘what?’ questions (what means, what act and to what end?). We deal with this in one ‘what?’ question which is captured well by the original ‘to what end?’. Understanding what the end is will help to surface the adaptive leadership challenge and its desired outcome is.  This uncovers the intention of the leadership activities and what needs to be done.

How will we achieve what we want to do?

This is the Leadership Quomodo which needs to take account of both the aim (intention through the why and the to what end questions) and the surrounding contexts (circumstances) in securing the vision (the object) of the leadership challenge.  Asking how? draws on the modus operandi of the organisation, the means that need to be applied and the way in which the leadership action will be taken and assessed.

 The second stage is to take account of the contexts (circumstances), by asking the remaining three ILQs.

 When do leaders need to act?

There are likely to be different timescales, particularly in responding to a wicked problem that requires adaptive leadership responses.  Short term activities and long-term achievements will both rely on medium-term action plans and objectives. Time is often the currency of good leadership. For politicians, this is often a short time frame.  For significant decisions, perhaps not extending beyond four years (the electoral cycle) or a matter of weeks or days (or sometimes hours) in dealing with crises.

Where does leadership need to take place?

The place is an important component of the leadership context. It mediates between the external environment (i.e., the political, economic, and social contexts) and the actions taken by leaders in achieving their purpose through programmes.  The context of each place will differ as will its population. These diversities need to be considered.  As one example, from a UK national perspective, London-centric leadership behaviour is often discussed and occasionally addressed in terms of policy (for example, the ‘levelling up’ rhetoric), but how much importance is given to local needs and priorities alongside national priorities in resolving national problems?

Who Leads

I have great respect for Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’ (Collins, 2001), but I cannot agree with his view that we should first get the right people on the bus before deciding where to drive it.  Matching skills to tasks do, of course, have benefits, but we first need to know what it is we want to achieve (the object), why we want to accomplish this (the motivation) and how we are going to do it (the Quomodo).  Then we can match the “Who’s” to the tasks and leadership role.


Six Intelligent Leadership Questions to describe Selfless Leadership

the WHAT question
The WHAT of selfless leadership is a collective vision.

This is the first intelligent leadership question. The explicit theme and style of selfless leadership is that leadership is the property of a community and not that of an individual. Selflessness is a quality that is often lacking across most cultures and institutions, as opposed to self-centred impulses. Selfless Leadership is the central concept of the collective nature of compass leadership. It concerns leading-in-the-round.

Selfless leadership leads for all and not just the selected few or, indeed for the individual leaders’ own ego or motivations. Selfless leaders are the right people who do the right things, for the right reason, in the right way for the right people and in the right places. Accountability will be the defining foundation for assessing if selfless leaders achieve these commendable principles.

The WHY question
Leaders serve the public good

Leadership is purposeful in that defines the vision and how practice aims to achieve the outcomes of the vision. The individual will always be at the core of leadership practice, but it is the motivation that will drive the leader’s actions.

The purpose (or the ‘why’) of selfless leadership is that leaders put the wider interests of those who they lead above their own interests. Selfless leadership brings together a range of value-based leadership practices and theories. Although not exhaustive, this includes relational, empathic, authentic, empowering, spiritual and ethical leadership.

A selfless leader values truth across their lives and character. As such, they bring these values into their leadership. This build absolute trust with all whom they interact with.

The WHEN question
The time for leadership is now.

The time for leadership is now! The only constant in life is change and leadership needs to be forever adaptive to the broader changes that are taking place and impacting on the operating environment. Selfless leaders are in the game for the long haul. Eventually, selfless leaders leave a lasting and positive institutional and social legacy.

They influence people by their continued leadership and demonstrable commitment to the endgame. The payback will be considerable, but this will be by means of an honoured reputation. Successful selfless leaders’ achievements will be emulated long into the future. Short term gains are important but long-term patience is a virtue. This approach will define the difference between expedient outputs and socially desirable outcomes.

[1] All is flux, nothing stays still (Heraclitus Greek philosopher)

The "HOW" Question
The How question is the Modus Operandi of Leadership

The modus operandi (the means adopted) identifies and bridges the gap between the vision and the socially desired outcomes through intelligence-led approaches. Selfless leadership aims to transform the vision to achieve outcomes in a manner that is both ethical and authentic. All aspects of leadership are linked. Success will be influenced by the extent to which dynamic interactions take place.

The practice of selfless leadership is therefore supported by the process of “Leading through 360° Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills.” [1]

In developing leaders our process promotes an Applied Leadership Challenge (ALC). The aim of ALCs is to align a collective vision for leading in the public interest. ALCs apply learning to practice through intelligent leadership within complex network contexts and at all levels of leadership. The process balances challenge with a climate which supports constructive dissent. Selfless leaders will welcome constructive criticism and actively promote the cultural acceptance for this alongside the feedback channels.

[1] LINKS360® is a registered trademark owned and licensed by Compass Leadership Limited and supports the frameworks and inventories outlined throughout its activities.

The WHERE question
The where of leadership is everywhere!

Leadership takes place across networks within the context of complex and adaptive systems. Selfless leadership seeks to enable and empower others to engage in collective leadership through all levels of the institution or networks.

Selfless leaders should create a space for adaptive leadership activity by the creation of a holding environment. This could be either a physical or virtual space in which adaptive work can be done through relationships. Leaders can then consider both time and perspective and achieve a balance between both the strategic direction and operational activity. This is what Heifetz calls ‘getting on to the balcony’ [1].

[1] HEIFETZ, R. A. 1994. Leadership without easy answers, Cambridge, Mass. ; London, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

The WHO question
Those who are closest to the problem are more likely to solve them

Selfless leadership includes the importance of individual leadership development and practice but embracing and building this within the collective. The role of the selfless leader is to ask the intelligent question and then enable and empower collective others to add to this question and to come up with solutions. Those who are closest to the problem are more likely to solve them.

Having set the question, selfless leaders will first ask of themselves and their teams, the intelligent question. For example, “what is the right thing to do?” and then, “how best can we achieve this?” Achieving the outcome in a way that is consistent with shared values drives the team’s collective ambition and goals. Selfless leadership engenders trust by relinquishing control and granting freedom to every team member to take necessary action. Risk management is proportionate, and every effort is made to avoid bureaucratic obstacles and data paralysis.

Summarising the Leadership Quomodo (LQ)

Our Leadership Quomodo asks the integrative collective leadership question:

To what extent are collective leaders building synergy by demonstrating how they are ‘doing the right things, in the right way, by and for the right people, in the right places and with the right impact and for the right reasons”

LQ provides the motivation for leading (why?), the intended outcome of the leadership (what end?) and, importantly, how will we lead?

The remaining circumstances and intentions help in providing the foundation for all six intelligent leadership questions (6ILQs). We will consider the six ILQs in more detail in the later chapter on LINKS360®. 




The Selfless Leader