By:Rebecca Saltman and Dr. Kasie Crisp Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Opinion
Lead by Asking, Not Telling.
Imagine living in a world that doesn’t demand you to have “the answer,” but instead nurtures your awareness of multiple opportunities - possibilities that can be greater than you previously imagined. This different world does not insist that you follow any one leader or doctrine - this world is about the questions that you can ask, creating possibilities which lead to greater choices in life.
What if successful leadership, both in work and in life, was strictly concerned with thinking about and asking yourself, questions first?
John F. Kennedy said, "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask "Why not?"
Leadership is generally thought to be well understood. As with so many definitions in today’s world, it is bandied about with little or no concern as to an accurate portrayal of what effective leadership really is.
Being a leader in the 21st century means reconsidering preconceptions. The current business and social climate is so complex and rapidly changing that it is no longer possible for any one person to have fixed knowledge regarding the factors affecting their enterprise. The CEO or elected official doesn’t know, or have to know, everything. Such a perspective traps the leader and those being led into limited possibilities. How much easier is it to ask a question than to be pressured into producing the “right” answer? How much of a burden is being by having to know “the answer”?
Again, we arrive at questions. Many of the world’s greatest leaders utilized questions that were fundamental to their individual philosophies. They were not afraid to make the final decision but arriving there was ultimately the work of questioning or valuing a stance which emphasized “being in the question.”
Creativity is the number one “leadership competency” required today and for the future, according to 1,500 top CEOs surveyed by IBM and reported by Newsweek in the July 19, 2010 issue. Yet, scientific measures of creativity in America are declining, just as IQ scores are going up. What if giving your business and your life the creative edge it needs could be as easy as just asking questions? You know...the talent of a preschooler that was abandoned by middle school.
Albert Einstein: "To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science."
Although we asked our parents 100 questions a day as small children, most of us lost the art of asking questions because “the right answer” was so emphasized in school. Conformity at some level is of course necessary to the functioning of any organization, and is established through modern society’s primary schooling facilities. For teachers to convey concepts ranging from the basic (mathematics, the sciences) to the complicated (philosophy, religion, civics) there has to be a level of rote performance. Sadly, this very emphasis on “answer” is killing our ability to ask questions and our creative and leadership potential along with it.
By using questions, you can re-awaken your own creativity and bring back your own leadership and creative edge. “What are the possibilities of... (fill in your desired outcome)?” is an open-ended question that can be used in negotiations of all kinds, as well as in meetings with friends, staff and clients.
One of Douglas’s clients was involved in a three-year-long, highly political zoning dispute with the city where her office was located. She needed additional time to meet their demands, and her opponents were not especially disposed to grant her any favors. She risked asking a question. On a Friday afternoon she asked, “What are the possibilities I could have another fourweeks to meet these requirements?” The city called back Monday with a three-week extension on her project.
Deceptively simple questions can yield remarkable results—perhaps because their use is so unusual. Might that be the leadership model you are looking for?
Dr. Dain Heer was consulting with a healthcare practitioner who was not really happy or successful in her practice. He suggested the question, “What would an ideal practice that would be joyful and bring me lots of money be?” She ended up creating a multi-disciplinary center which allowed her to focus on what she loved doing, while tripling the practice income within 12 months.
Gloria Steinem: "God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there's no turning back."
The open-ended quality of questions can sometimes produce surprising results. An acupuncturist Dr. Heer worked with asked, “What would it take to love coming to work and make lots of money doing it?” She is now selling real estate and happy doing it.
When working from a sales perspective in our occupations and lives, how often do people assume they know what their customer, friend, sibling or spouse wants and needs? These assumptions can be made with the best interests of the other person at heart, based on the “salesperson's” more extensive product knowledge. Even these assumptions are judgments, however, and like all judgments, they can blind us from giving the other person what they really desire.
One of the greatest challenges of collaborative leadership is that there are many obstacles.
Rikka Zimmerman, Access Consciousness Facilitator, asks, “What would it take to have tools that actually work to change the world?” She employs interrogatives like, “What contribution can I make that would actually change the world?” and “What would it take for us to empower millions of people to be who they really are?” These questions are open-ended and invite even greater possibilities to engage.
Just asking questions invites new perspectives, creativity and true leadership. It’s an invitation to step "out of the box" and look at things in a new way.
This approach essentially manufactures opportunities to create possibilities which are less linear and more creative than merely asking “How can I get this or do this?” As questions go, those that start with “how” tend to de-emphasize the creative possibilities around you, because they force you into linear thinking. “Step A, then Step B, then Step C” is not the “aha!” state that creativity is made of.
A question that can turbo-charge your business’ climb to the top and turn around what may appear to be adverse developments is, “What’s right about this that I’m not getting?” Anyone who has ever suffered a business or personal setback of any kind, only to discover it was really a gift five or 10 years later, can see the value of this question.
Consider using “How does it get even better than this?” to identify colleagues, friends and potential employees who are unable or unwilling to be creative.
One woman used this question when she was stopped for speeding by a Texas Ranger. When she asked the question, he dropped the speed at which he’d clocked her by 10 miles per hour and saved her $100
The less creative types will not ask how things can get better, but, will declare, “This is as good as it gets!” Or, they might simply say, “It doesn’t exist.” There may be a place for these noncreative types in your organization, doing repetitive jobs. Putting them in sales, customer relations, or departments involved in innovation may not be in your best interest.
In this issue of ICOSA, I’d like for all of you collaborative leaders to consider using the concept of questions. Since it is the holiday season, and sometimes holidays can be stressful, use these tools to not only change your holiday for the better, but change the world one question at a time.
A project aimed at taking leadership and consciousness even further recently had its worldwide debut in Denver, spearheaded by Dr. Heer and Zimmerman. Information, including downloadable lectures, on the latest developments can be found at the website, www.leadersforaconsciousworld.com. To get a free MP3 or learn more, please log on to www.accessconsciousness.com
Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the President and Founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. www.foot-in-door.com.
Dr. Kacie Crisp is a relationship and business coach who has been facilitating the tools of Access Consciousness since 2002. Her website is www.howtostaymarriedandhappy.com