Genuine Inquiry

The post earlier this week on the Art of Inquiry prompted a wonderful conversation in the comments and inspired some reflection on what it takes for a leader to adopt a way of being that supports asking questions in a genuine way. The Art of Inquiry only works when the questions are asked with authenticity.

Before you adopt the stance of being an Inquiring Leader

If you don`t honestly care about the responses to the questions, or if you`ve already made up your mind about the answers, don`t bother asking. But if you truly desire to make your life easier by engaging, influencing, collaborating with, and developing your employees; then this takes internal transformation on your part.

The shifts in belief needed for a leader to be seen as genuine in inquiry aren’t trivial. They take courage. They are:

From having all the answers to a willingness to enter the unknown. When we ask the kind of questions that we don`t have the answers to, it can make us feel naked and vulnerable. We live in a world where everyone (including ourselves) seems to look to us for the answers. What a burden it is for us to put ourselves in that position! Adopting a sense of curiosity and a learning attitude are key to entering the unknown.

From putting out fires to being completely present and available to listen to the answers. The truth is that it takes more time to ask questions and to listen to answers than it does to bark out an opinion or an order. But barking isn`t exactly the way to engage and develop your employees. They will learn through thinking and doing. Questions make them think and can start the forward motion needed for them to take action.

From hoarding power to having the courage to ask the questions that will distribute power and unleash possibility. We avoid inquiry because we believe that our knowledge is a source of power and that power is in limited supply. We may think that if we ask questions that empower our employees to reflect and act for themselves that we’ve given away some of our power. In fact, power can be shared with a net gain to all. When you empower your employees through inquiry, you unleash unlimited potential for you, your team, and your organization.

Enjoy the Art of Inquiry, but understand that shifting your mindset is essential for it’s effectiveness.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

7 comments on “Genuine Inquiry

  1. Another great post.

    Two things stand out to me:
    1. Willingness to enter the unknown. I agree that it takes courage to ask questions that you don't know the answers to. Yet eframing this as willingness to enter the unknown introduces possibility and potential to discover new and helpful solutions.
    2. Being available to listen to the answers. An important reminder that asking the questions is just the beginning.

    Thanks, MJ. You've given me a lot to think about and apply today.

  2. This is excellent content. Especially in today's economic climate, many leaders are feeling insecure and are afraid to ask questions and then sit back and listen. Creating an atmopshere of open, constructive and collaborative communication is key in any successful organisation.

  3. This is another piece of the inquiry puzzle, Mary Jo, thanks for adding it. One thing we don't often tell the managers who want to change from barking to asking is that they may encounter mistrust, disbelieve and even resistance. It's a bit like being one of the Israelites on the trip from Egypt to the Promised Land. You might have been a slave in Egypt, but at least you had food and shelter, and the Promised Land is still a long way away.

  4. Becky, Thanks! if I've given you some food for thought,then I've done my job!

    Dorothy, yes, this is hard work! What your comments prompt is the need for coaches or mentors in these tough times.

    Wally, your comments bring up the fact that even though we might feel we're "transforming", it does take longer for our employees to see the change. Patience and some kind of support mechanism are key.

  5. Art of Inquiry! is, no doubt, a powerful tool to take better dicisions before the decision, itself.

  6. Mary Jo, Is the context for this post still coaching an individual? I somehow have interpreted the context may have widened to include group inquiry.

    Leading group inquiry is more complex than individual inquiry. The process starts with discovery, which your post addresses nicely. It continues with integration of the unearthed information, which will involve working through conflicts. I'll leave it to you to determine whether that subject deserves a separate post.

    Regardless of whether it's individual or group inquiry, the effective leader is the person who can reframe the information so that the result is an integration rather than a compromise.

    As you say, it's easier and faster to bark out the answers. The inquiry process is powerful and can be slow. And the slowness causes it to be viewed as a waste of time by many people whose opinions matter. I believe leaders should engage this process only when an integrated answer really matters.

  7. Soumyaranjan, thanks for the affirmation.

    Steven, I agree that inquiry is but one tool in a leader's toolbox. Interestingly, it seems to me that it is the one that is least used, but should be brought out more often.

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