“What builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward is asking the RIGHT questions.” Ed Schein in Humble Inquiry. Machiavelli’s The Prince, written centuries before organizational development was a thing, noted that a great prince must “certainly be a great asker of questions.”
What are the RIGHT questions? They are the kinds of questions that
- push us beyond obvious & preconceived answers;
- show humility on the part of the asker;
- demonstrate genuine curiosity in the thoughts and ideas of others;
- foster an environment of collaborative trust;
- invite honesty and truthfulness, however unpleasant the message;
- generate a range of ideas that is both wide and deep; and,
- cause us to seek out new information or consider new perspectives.
When facing change, challenge, or crisis, the temptation is to try to solve the problem as quickly and cheaply as possible, usually involving some form of imitation where we find the company that looks to be successful and try to copy what they do. This innate instinct to “institutional isomorphism” (the tendency in an industry for organizations to all look essentially alike) has given rise to an enormous industry of how-to books, conferences, and expert consultants.
Yet the most powerful ingredient for dynamic organizational change and success is everywhere we look: asking the right questions and taking time to listen well. In many cases, ask enough of the right questions in the right way and the solutions to problems become self-evident.
A leader who has a strong sense of curiosity and humble interest in the experiences, ideas, and needs of others will unleash an environment of creativity, trust, innovation, and healthy engagement like nothing else can.