What valuable questions are you sitting with?

What valuable questions are you sitting with?

At a recent gathering of lawyers and community leaders I asked the members of the group: What questions are you sitting with? The question caused some puzzlement and in one or two cases evident discomfort.

If you have stopped to ask yourself this same question you may be having the same reaction. Bear with me and read on!

We are mostly taught in school that questions have answers. If we study harder, read wider, do our homework, and explore more widely we will find the right answer. Job done; now we know. We discover in our teenage years that unfortunately some answers are actually simply someone's opinion.  Many "truths" are relative; new answers challenge and replace old ones; and nearly every answer leads to a new question.

Even though we know, knowing is a temporary and fleeting phenomenon that changes shape with each new inquiry and revelation.

Well actually we don't discover this as teenagers - we rediscover it - because before it was knocked out of us by well meaning adults, we KNEW as young children a simple enduring truth that is now a secret many adults are rediscovering: Life is lifelong inquiry.

Children know this because they keep asking: what and why and who and when and where and how?

Scientists and philosophers know this because they understand that embarking on a research journey or philosophical inquiry starts with finding or showing the question.

Farmers and gardeners know this because each day brings a new physical and climatic environment that asks them new questions as they go about tending their land in that moment.

Poets and writers know this, Rudyard Kipling saw this when he wrote of the 6 questions that taught him all he knew

Each day is an inquiry. What is it bringing? What is needed now? How do I turn up? Where will I end the day at? Who should I spend this precious time with? Why should I finish this? And if we are really brave: What am I doing here? Who am I in this place?

These are generic questions, but they are powerful and invariably valuable questions when asked at the right time and place. They are also questions that are always present with us, but that doesn’t make them easy to ask ourselves, let alone to answer. Some of our discomfort may also come from knowing this. If we are results and outcome oriented we may see this whole endeavour as introspective and self serving. We might fear becoming obsessed with these questions neurotically trying to answer them. So why not just stop asking them?

Yet others of us may see the value of these questions, but we may also have our own, personal variations of them. For example, what should I do with this next phase of my life? How should I decide whether to take this job? What should I do if I get turned down again? How should I celebrate this time? Who should I ask to help me work out this new piece of software? What should I do with this team feedback? Why does my boss not see this? What does my son think of my new partner? When should I say goodbye to her? How does this new boss make me feel?

Cultivating an Inquiring Mindset

Professionally we may find value in seeking out and sitting with new questions for those daily questions that we face, both operationally and strategically. We find that the most successful entrepreneurs seek out questions their potential customers are asking. Effective team leaders seek out questions that motivate teams. Organisational leaders seek out new developmental questions for their organisations to anticipate and so on.

The familiarity of the questions we face and the deceptive simplicity their form takes belies their power to frame our mindsets and to guide our actions.

Staying mindful and aware of new questions that matter or old questions that take on a new sense of urgency or importance helps us focus our attention, resources and efforts.

In addition starting each day mindfully reflecting on today's important questions; or better still finding brief moments during the day to stop to reflect on the important question that is offering itself to you, can be energising. It will also help you relate more wholesomely, practically and with greater presence with the people you are with and the realities you are facing.

Cultivating an inquiring mindset does not mean that you eschew action. Inquiry and action are comfortable bedfellows. Given their place in our day to day practice, they inform and guide each other in a symbiotic, fulfilling and productive way.

Relationally the two help us connect with others. Team leaders know that in the complex and varied circumstances we face today, the teams that start with telling are not necessarily as adaptive and effective in uncertainty as teams that start with asking.

Leaders know that in large complex and matrixed organisations their role is rarely that of chief prophet. More often than not it is more like "chief anthropology officer".

In this role they find that by sitting with "tribe" and leading with observation, they are better informed and better placed to understand and shape the realities, rituals and needs that underlie the beliefs and activities that are prioritised by those they lead. They do this through living in relationship, engaging with trust building and mutually respectful behaviour.

So the invitation to consider the questions you are sitting with is far from a requirement to engage in neurotic and self indulgent self analysis. Rather it is an invitation to engage in mindful and attentive engagement with this day. Committing to this moment, where you are now, what matters to you and others and what you are calling into existence or giving attention and privilege to in the activities you are embarking on.

What an enticing and worthwhile provocation! 

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leadership    questions    reflection    teams   

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Bruno Dalbiez
Lovely, very profound, and thought-provoking article, Anthony! Thank you.
Quote 05 October 2015 09:36

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