The Art of Inquiry
Social constructionists would tell you that our words create our world.
If our world is simply a function of our stories about it, then how we think and speak about our experiences holds the key to our ability to empower ourselves and influence others. Many leaders mistakenly assume that knowing the answers is their source of power. Quite the opposite. Knowing the right questions to ask – then asking them – is the most powerful action a leader can take. Framing up powerful questions, or what we’ll call the art of inquiry, that engage those around us in new ways of thinking often provides far more leverage for a leader than inserting their view as truth.
Leaders are storytellers, crafting the vision of what can be, who we are and where we’ve been. They create the frame for the house we’re trying to build. The best leaders communicate brilliantly, yet often through asking more than telling. They dig deep to understand how organizations, markets, and systems work. They invite important stakeholders to share their stories on the “what” and the “why” that contribute to where we are. Through simple, yet poignant inquiry, leaders move us toward what’s possible. They also help us understand ourselves in profound ways, together and as individuals.
I believe that the access out of “what is” into “what might be” is inquiry, which opens into truthful dialogue. Dialogue, described in fable by Native Americans as, “You talk and talk and talk until the talk starts,” is a conversation of appreciation, deep listening, and candid sharing. Dialogue enables us to speak to that which matters, and get at the meaning behind our lives and our actions. Leadership performance is not complete without staking it to an underlying sense of meaning. And inquiry takes us there.
So how does a leader begin to master inquiry?
Great question. Look – you’re already doing it! Inquiry begins with calling into question our assumptions and beliefs about why things are the way they are. This includes our own sense of self. Continually calling into question my motives, my needs, my stories gives me access to a broader truth that my view is just one of many valid perspectives. Starting with myself also causes me to acknowledge how I have contributed, and still contribute, to the world outside of me. This acknowledgement is extremely powerful and will change your world – promise.
Once I develop a practice of inquiry into self, I can engage others with integrity about their stories. What do they see, feel, and believe about our collective experience? What is remarkable about the way things are, and what would make it even better? I want to engage in that inquiry with you.