Inquiry Based Leadership
Most leaders are unaware of the amazing power of questions, how they can generate short-term results and long-term learning and success. The problem is that we feel that we are supposed to have answers, not questions. Unfortunately, from an early age, we are discouraged from asking questions, especially challenging ones, be it at home, school or at church, as they are considered rude, inconsiderate or intrusive. A growing number of leaders recognize that a learning organization is better able to adapt to changes and respond to opportunities these changes present and hence thrive and questions are at the root of learning.
When leaders don’t ask questions opportunities are not only missed but disasters can occur. The Titanic sank, in part, because planners failed to raise reservations about its design and the steel used to build it. Similarly, the Challenger space shuttle disaster could have been avoided if the engineers would have questioned, the outside temperature at the time of launch. They knew the O-rings we’re unreliable below 53 degree F but they allowed the launch to occur when the temperature was 36 degrees F because they we’re fearful of raising the issue since the launch was already well behind schedule. A final example is the Bay of Pigs invasion where “Group Think” led to disaster despite many involved having doubts. The thought was if everyone agrees it must be right and I’m wrong.
There are many ways questions, and a questioning culture, can add meaningful value to an organization, a project or simply a dialog. Beyond preventing disasters, as just described, they force us to face reality and can be the ultimate leadership tool. Great leaders ask great questions to get things done like asking: “What needs to be done”? “What is right for the enterprise”? And thereby facilitating the development of action plans, insightful decision-making, and responsible communication, maintaining focus on opportunities instead of problems, running productive meetings and building teamwork. Great leaders tend to listen first, speak last, and inquire always. The best thing, we can all do to strengthen our leadership is to ask questions while encouraging others to do the same in safety.
The world is changing at an unprecedented pace with knowledge doubling every 5 years. In dealing with these future leaders:
· Can’t know enough,
· Must aggregate the knowledge of their people through inquiry,
· Multiply the IQ of the enterprise,
· Use inquiry to drive decision-making but without relying on consensus.
Where consensus provides comfort, conflict yields excellence but only if it’s constructive and constructive conflict can only take place where there is a trusting environment. By creating a question friendly environment, we as leaders are building the trust which can lead to excellence in decision-making and strategy development.
Inquiry Based Leadership is an underutilized capability which can positively impact the enterprise by shaping its purpose, vision, and values, empowering it’s employees, and affecting its overall sustainability. People are educated not to ask questions but provide answers, which is diametrically apposed to human nature which is naturally curious. Through careful analysis and practice, leaders can learn to use inquiry as a powerful tool becoming more effective creating learning organizations which are self-sustaining in a very dynamic business climate.