On Powerful Questions

I work with many people who are trying to develop powerful questions. They have learned — or they are following their instincts — that the question is a key point of engagement, and sometimes, intervention.

Inquiry together is a key aspect of a different narrative about leadership. An older narrative would have been more about telling people what to do. Marching orders. Embedded in that is a pretty deeply held mechanistic worldview. People as parts. Organizing and manipulating things. Linear orientation to time and progress. Let’s be clear — this worldview is in all of us. And of course, there are times when that orientation is just right. Putting together fifty sandwiches in ten minutes for a church picnic is pretty much an assembly line job.

However, the newer narrative — hmmm, the one that many of us are learning is more accurate and helpful — is about engagement and collaboration. It’s not marching orders. It’s questioning invitations. It’s expectation to engage key questions together, to learn together real time and with great transparency, and to build relationships, all in a real time kind of way. The newer narrative is often about attention to dynamics, not things. Dynamics change and are always present. Like the weather. It’s pretty hard to manage the weather. Rather we respond to the ever-changing dynamic by getting a sweater or bringing a swim suit.

Back to questions.

I see a lot of people fretting over the wording of questions. Trying to get it just right. Garsh, I’m going to let myself sound a bit hypocritical here for a moment. The wording of questions matters, but sometimes, I observe in myself and others an approach to naming questions that itself feels overly mechanical. Trying to engineer together many social variables to find just the right solution. It’s not an answer we’re looking for — well, at least some of the time. It is an engagement that creates a minimal container for people to find a minimal (or more) layer of interacting with one another to animate a shared energy.

The words matter. And, they don’t.

On the weekend I watched a video of some friends discussing powerful questions. It’s a community of practice and I wasn’t able to meet at the chosen time. I loved hearing their insights about questions. I offered this in retrospect: I love it that we are all growing our ability to ask questions. Asking questions (in small groups or large) is not all about a silver tongue. It is, to me, about partnering an inherent curiosity with a desire to welcome an emergence from the space between. The question is one of the things that helps that happen.

I know I rely on what I would call “pocket questions.” What do you care about here? What is important to you in this? What could this also be? I know that I trend my questions within an appreciative orientation — even with the tough stuff. What are you learning about this difficult time that is important to remember? It’s good to have these. Not to perform them, but rather, activate genuine inquiry together.

And, I want to continue to encourage the orientation that is underneath the words. What would it take for any of us to further grow in our appreciation for what arises when curiosity feeds an expectation of emergence?

That’s not just a skill. It’s an orientation. And it makes even the most simple questions, powerful.