The Case for Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.”  ~ Edgar H. Schein

                               

Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building.  We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.

However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.

RelationshipBlogImage1

And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy.  But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns?  If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.

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We Need a New Breed of Leader

This article was originally published in The e.MILE People Development Magazine in Nov 2014.

Boy In A Suit Drinking Coffee

The leadership mindset that led us into the global economic downturn is not fit for the purpose of leading us back out again.

Recessions encourage cautious mindsets, resulting in refrains such as,  “Batten down the hatches, let the storm blow over, it’s not a time for taking risks, let’s just make sure we are still standing at the end of this – we’ll be in good shape to start again.”  And, “Sorry, there’s no budget for people development. Not the right time to explore new means of production. Not possible to invest in innovation initiatives.” These leadership mantras have become engrained in the psyche of many a business culture during the last five or six years.

Leadership mindsets have themselves become victims of the downturn. The focus on cost reduction and the bottom line has stunted many leaders’ abilities. The question is, how easily will they be able to shift into a frame of mind that embraces growth, change and innovation.  Some who once had visions of new and exciting futures have resorted to being excited by ‘making budget’.

This is not the role of leaders.  Continue reading

“The Vital Edge” is coming

Make a note of the date. The week commencing 14 April 2014 will see the release of

“The Vital Edge”……. (Sporting Mindsets for Business Performance)

dt-improved-performance

Using anecdotes and metaphors from sport, combined with psychology and behavioural models, the book provides guidance and pointers as to how business performance can be improved and how common de-railers can be overcome. It is intended to be an easy to read and entertaining journey through a variety of sports, with an intriguing dive into subject areas as diverse as motivation, optimism, ‘flow’, neuroscience, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. It will include worksheets with ponder questions at the end of each chapter allowing the book to be used individually or as part of team-building, leadership development and coaching programmes.

I recently offered sneak previews to readers.

One reviewer commented: “Being an athlete, an improving coach and a sports policy maker makes your book talk to me in a very personal way. Its as if you have written this book just for me. I love it so much putting it down is a problem. All the elements that bind sport and business are there.” 

A number of people have requested details of how to get hold of the book on its release.  I will make sure you get those details. If you would like to add your name (and contact details) to that list please provide your details using the Contact Us Page and I will get back to you personally.

 

Louis Collins, Leadership Development Coach

 

Emotional engagement enhances Productivity

A previous post I wrote around “how emotion shows up for coaches” (click here to read that article) attracted considerable attention, and prompted further questions about how to handle emotions in clients.  The first thing to be said is that having clients talk openly and with curiosity about their emotions is precisely where most coaches dream of their coaching sessions being conducted.

source: acutakehealth.com

source: acutakehealth.com

It is rarely that easy however. We are a kind of “bunged up society” when it comes to discussing emotions. Not everyone of course. Some people are highly attuned to their own and other’s emotions, and are able to use that awareness to understand, manage and influence relationships very effectively. This is not the norm, however, particularly in traditional cultures where expressing emotions has not been encouraged and even frowned upon (this has been true in youth culture, corporates, within families, and even in schools).

Asking someone ‘how they feel’ about something, is often met with a blank expression, as if the question has been asked in a foreign language.

If an answer is provided, it is often expressed in terms of thoughts, rather than feelings (i.e. the answer will often begin with “I think….”).

Even when someone has understood the question and is attempting to get closer to what they do feel, it is not unusual to hear them say something like, “Hmm, let me think about that, yes, what am I feeling?”

In other words, people usually have to intellectualise, through thinking and language, in order to get to what they are feeling. It is as if our emotional layers are hidden away, Continue reading

You Cannot Lead without Inquiry (Update)

BLOG UPDATE:  This article was originally posted in February 2012, and I am delighted to see that Hamza Kashgari, the young Saudi writer who inspired the article, has eventually been released from his prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. If you missed the original story, Hamza was imprisoned for expressing views deemed blasphemous by the authorities.  

(see Freedom House article on his release here)

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POSTED Feb 20, 2012      Too many people in positions of authority operate from a position of fear. Fear of not knowing, fear of being found out, fear of looking incompetent, fear of losing what has taken them years to attain.  This is true in companies, public service and politics. People who are in these positions are rarely stupid.  Being smart is usually a big factor in them getting to where they are. But, once they are there, something seems to kick in which is profoundly ‘anti-learning’. To paraphrase the great Chris Argyris, “Smart People find it tough to Learn”.

Today’s story in ‘The Nation’ of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old journalist, who faces potential death for daring to question, shines a powerful spotlight on the fear with which ‘leaders’ operate. As a species we progress by learning.  We are problem solvers, we are cognitive thinkers, we naturally question, challenge and inquire. It is by doing so that we have overcome the multitude of obstacles that have stood in the way of our evolution over millenia. But, we do not and cannot stand still. To do so would consign the human race to extinction, probably through self-destruction. More than ever before, we requireenormous learning on a global scale. We need creativity and innovation, we need it networked and con-joined, we need collaboration, we cannot afford to shut down any avenues of possible learning. We need advances, leaps of logic, and ‘open and questioning minds’ that will take our species forward together to solve the biggest problems we have ever had to deal with – drought, famine, economy, conflict, climate change, energy, pestulance, AIDS, malaria, and the list goes on.

Shutting down inquiry, especially in our young people, is a fast-track to obsolesence. It may preserve the ‘Leaders’ position in the short term, it saves face, it avoids embarrassment, it re-asserts authority and quells insubordination, but all at the expense of ‘learning’.  The best Leaders through history have demonstrated that they contnue to change, they recognise that the circumstances that surrounded them while getting to where they have reached are continously changing, and so must they. They adapt, they are flexible in their approach, and they continuously learn. They do this by continuing to ask questions.  They do not fear that they will be seen as incompetent in doing so. They encourage others to do the same, they create a safe and open space for inquiry, because they know that this is the surest way to keep learning.

I wish Hamza well in his fight for justice and his right to learn.

Are your people ready to change?

If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  ~  John A. Simone, Sr.  

At a time when most businesses are seeking ways to emerge from the effects of the recession, and get themselves back on the road to economic growth, one inevitable question their leaders will all face will be, “What things are going to have to change around here to start us moving again?”  

  • Will the strategy and tactics they have been deploying during the crunch be the same ones they need to drive growth?  
  • How do they shift mindsets on their management teams from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘growth and profit’? 
  • Do they need different types of people in their company to take them in a different direction?
  • Will their own leadership style need to be different as they move forward?
  • Are they even the right leader to take the company forward and be successful?

Some of these questions can be extremely daunting, and will challenge even the most competent leaders. However, much will depend on how the workforce has been led during the period of recession. 

Have people been continuously aware that this day was coming, or will it come as a surprise to them  that they are now expected to do things differently, think differently, perhaps adopt new practices.  Remember, even unpleasant circumstances become comfortable after a while, and people will resist moving away from the ‘way things are’ even if they are promised a better future.polar-bear-ice

It’s not enough to simply promise things will get better and hope they will change.  One major reason for this, we now know, is because of the way our brains are organised. Regular patterns of thinking and behaviour become ‘wired’ at the neural level. It is certainly not a trivial matter of expecting people to one day waken up and operate as if they had a different wiring pattern. Not even after the most rousing and stirring ‘all-hands’ kick-off event !!  Our brains need to have new connections created (and old connections disused and atrophied) over a period of time in order for new patterns of thinking and behaviour to take root. New visions, positive futures, different expectations, alternate rewards, all help generate these new connections, and ultimately, different behaviours.

That’s why the best leaders Continue reading

The Power of being ‘Clueless’

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” ~ Robert Burns

When we believe we are right, we don’t go looking for data to check otherwise. We close down our curiosity antennae and remain blissfully unaware of alternative views of the world. It can be cosy and comfortable existing in this state of course. Sticking with what you know keeps life simple. You don’t have to experience the dis-orientation of constantly questioning and challenging your assumptions. It lets you go about your daily business with minimal fuss. Life’s complicated enough, after all, without setting out to make it more challenging.

But, think about it a little longer. What if we all adopted this approach, all of the time? Nothing would ever change. Where would innovation come from?  What would happen to creativity?  The problems that we face, big and small, would simply become ‘accepted’ and incorporated into our ‘reality’, our ‘truth’, and not open to question. I guess this approach is more prevalent than we care to imagine. How much of our world, and ‘your’ individual ‘reality’, is governed by assumptions and beliefs? Continue reading

Coaching with emotion

We can’t stop ourselves having emotions. Indeed, why would we want to?  So, how do coaches coach from a place that ensures their emotions do not hi-jack their approach and derail the effectiveness of their engagements with clients?  What happens if you feel sorry for a client?  What if you get an overpowering desire to tell someone what they need to do?  What if something they say upsets you, or makes you angry?

Masterful coaches recognise that they can’t (and shouldn’t) block their own emotions, but rather, that they use these emotions to help them be a better coach.  By raising awareness of their own reactions and emotions, coaches can channel their coaching skills into better listening, richer rapport and deeper presence.

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

If your emotions leak into your questions, then they will lose impact, and judgements you are making will be transparent. If you are focusing on how you feel, you will not be listening fully to the client, and presence in the moment will suffer. Much better to be open and honest about emotions that are showing up for you. Sharing with a client that, “….this is making me feel uncomfortable right now, how is it making you feel?”, is fine. In fact, role-modelling the sharing of emotions in this way, may well help elicit a deeper exploration and sharing of emotion by the client.

It is when coaching reaches this emotional level that great things often start to happen, and progress and movement becomes possible.

The importance of engaging on an emotional level was discussed in a previous post called the The Upstairs & Downstairs Brain.

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If you feel that you (or members of your team) would benefit from exploring ways to make substantial improvements to personal and collective effectiveness and productivity, please get in touch. Tailored learning programmes are available that have delivered proven benefits, whether your current focus is on:

  • a need to engage your workforce in a positive and compelling way through a transformation
  • how to ensure you get the best out of your investment in talent 
  • ensuring your senior teams, team leaders & middle managers are equipped to handle the conversations that are needed to ensure your organisation is operating as effectively and productively as it could be. 

Simply submit your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to get in touch with you for an informal initial chat.

 

Selfless Leadership

Think back to an occasion when you earned yourself a new leadership position, perhaps a hard-earned promotion within an established corporate, or a great new opportunity with an ambitious go-getting young company. Maybe it was your first management role, maybe you had climbed the ladder and it was a C-suite position.

What was your first thought?  (I mean after your well-deserved celebrations had subsided).  When you first sat down and had a moment of quiet reflection on your own, perhaps in your new corner office, what went through your mind?

How many of you actually let your mind drift into the future and a time when you would be leaving this role; the day when your work would be done and time for you to move on? How long would that take, before you could leave the patch in a better state than when you joined, with better equipped people; new leaders who had developed themselves into your space?  How many of you actually set a target date for your own removal as one of your top measures of success?

source: billarends bit.ly/XYDsiG

source: billarends bit.ly/XYDsiG

Continue reading

We’re rewarding the wrong behaviours

The subject of bankers and their bonuses has raised its ugly head again this week. Yes, it is getting kind of boring.  If only because nothing new ever comes out of these media-driven examinations.  All we really get is a platform for the ‘public’ (or sections of the public) to express their disgust. What is there new to say?  Well, one or two thoughts spring to my mind (albeit not necessarily new).

First, the mass demonization of everyone who works in the banking industry is unhelpful and unfair. Indeed, a sizeable majority of those who work for the bank in the news this week, operate a long way (both physically and financially) from the lofty heights of the “City Bonuses” often quoted by the press. The people who work at the front desks of the provincial banks up and down the high streets, or in the call centres around the world, or in the admin departments at HQ, are not earning big bucks, and in the main, will never see a bonus no matter how good a job they do.

Second, the bonus system (not just in banking), one of the key incentivisation tools at the very heart of capitalism, is profoundly broken.

Let’s assume for a moment that monetary bonuses do have some merit as a means of incentivising staff to do a better job than they otherwise would do.  At the very least, one would expect that the measure of success used to decide whether the bonus should be paid, would be one that resulted in a direct improvement for the customer. That may be in the form of better value (financially), better quality or better service, but it should be something that is tangible and agreed (externally) as having resulted in that improvement.  

What has become all too prevalent in the crazy ‘bonus-driven culture’ of our businesses and organisations, is an industry of internally-driven, inward-looking, process improvement measures, which have little or no relevance to the end customer, or recipient of the service. Internal departments, in order to prove their value and viability, concoct complicated measures, based on process efficiency, productivity enhancements, employee engagement and so on. All worthwhile activities, no doubt, but irrelevant if the end customer experience is not impacted and does not improve. Despite this, great effort is expended in agreeing annual goals and targets, and even greater effort in gathering evidence to prove they have been achieved, regardless of whether the end customer is receiving improved service, value or product innovation.  The system has lost its way, and lost touch with its original purpose.  

Ah, original purpose. What was that anyway?   Continue reading