Leading with curiousity, by asking questions

“Personal and organisational excellence demands experimentation, reflection and evaluation, and these things in turn lead to learning and growth. Change precipitates growth; some part of the self or the organisational culture is abandoned, encouraging and allowing a new self or a new culture to emerge.”

“Therefore leadership is associated with risk taking, learning and change. it implies the embracing of uncertainty, the use of trust, and the exercise of faith.”
Robert E. Quinn: ‘Deep Change; discovering the leader within’

But the expectations of most businesses in whatever sector have a clear bias; towards equilibrium. Managers are expected to leverage their expertise; their knowing. They are not to explore risk, to learn or to create; to demonstrate their unknowing. They are not expected to trust and cooperate, only to dominate and compete.

However, there are no recipes for organisational success. The right answer for success today is not the necessarily the right one for success tomorrow. Once you have found the right answer for today, you have to immediately start to find the answer that will be right for tomorrow. Whilst that answer will ultimately have to be defined by the leader, its content will come from others and their differing experiences and perspectives. The leader can only gather the content by engaging others, by building and maintaining the bridges between themselves and those that they lead, their peers and those who lead them. He or she will need to gather content with curiosity; by asking questions.

‘A Curious mind:the secret to a bigger life’ Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman

Questions are a great management tool (and a great leadership tool).

Because asking questions:

* elicits information
* discovers what is possible-find out what ideas and reactions are in other people’s minds.
* creates the space for people to raise issues that they are worried about (these issues may well be unknown to the leader)
* lets people tell a different story than the one you’re expecting
* people have to make a case for the way that they want a decision to go. The answer ‘stress tests’ the thinking
* questions create both the authority in people to come up with ideas and take action, and the responsibility for moving things forward.

Asking questions has these positive side effects:
Can quietly transmit values more powerfully than a direct statement telling people what you want them to stand for.
Shows that the leader is willing to listen, even to ideas or suggestions or problems that he or she wasn’t expecting.
A question can itself imply the responsibility for the problem and the authority to come up with a solution.
Leaders cannot flirt with not knowing. There cannot be a half-hearted, pretending to themselves and others, questioning strategy. They need to be aware of falling into the trap of the instant gratification of asking questions that they already know the answer to, or taking the first answer to a question that they don’t know the answer to.
Leaders need to be aware that keeping on asking questions disturbs the equilibrium, and businesses like people like equilibrium. To find the right answer for success tomorrow means that a leader must keep on asking questions because that is the only way to gather more information about what is going on and what the options may be.

‘Not knowing’ Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner p.237
*“We can choose to reward curiosity and questioning rather than reinforce dependency on answers”*

Play and a developing sense of self

I continue my reflections on the stimulus provided by Herminia Ibarra form her latest HBR blog: The Most Productive Way to Develop as a Leader https://hbr.org/2015/03/the-most-productive-way-to-develop-as-a-leader
In that blog piece, Herminia urges leaders to get or give themselves permission to play with their sense of self. This idea of play is a major challenge to current ways of working as those deemed to be successful in modern organisations may well have foreclosed on options and stifled the discontinuous growth that only comes when we suprise ourselves. Such successful people may be good at consistently relating their actions to a purpose, of being described as having ‘clearsightedness’. Any idea of ‘playing’ with options is perceived to be weak.
So, knowing as we do how organisations value rationality, and recognising the scale of challenge any change will face, how do we get or give ourselves permission to play? Herminia references James G. March’s ‘Technology of foolishness’ piece, an article that I wasn’t aware of so I have turned to it for explanations and a way forward. This ‘voyage of discovery’ into March’s work is an example of the behaviour that Richard Martin describes in his blog piece ‘Make curious with me’; ‘The curious individual constantly moves to the boundaries of their knowledge…we seek to bridge our knowledge gaps through curiousity, combinatory play and serendipity’ http://indalogenesis.com/2015/02/16/make-curious-with-me/

In ‘Technology of foolishness’ March describes playfulness as:

1. as above all, being a temporary suspension of the rules
2. allowing experimentation, but acknowledges reason
3. being obliged to accept that at some point the playing will stop or it will be integrated into ‘normal’ activity

March is clear that playfulness is not:
1. a release of emotional tensions of virtue; a ‘mardi gras’
2. an element of spirtual balance
3. supportive of self indulgence; play is an instrument of intelligence, not a substitute

Play allows a leader to explore alternative ideas of possible purposes and alternative concepts of behavioural consistency; to be playful with their conception of themselves.

March provides us with 5 procedures for playfulness:
1. treat goals as hypotheses-experiment with alternatives to discover new and interesting combinations
2. treat intuition as real-this permits us to see some possible actions that are outside our present scheme for justifying behaviour
3. treat hypocrisy as a transition-to give ‘permission’ to play and contradict our ‘normal’ selves
4. treat memory as an enemy-‘if we keep on doing what we have always done, we’ll get what we have always got’
5. treat experience as a theory-to allow for the retrospective learning of new self-conceptions

March concludes by asking for the design of organisations to attend to the problems of maintaining both playfulness and reason as aspects of intelligent choice. Organisations (and I would suggest leaders themselves) should encourage play by insisting on some temporary relief from control, coordination and communication.