Asking Questions – the Right Questions

Surely one of the most crucial capacities in life and in leadership – specifically in the leadership of the organizations where we serve – is the ability to ask questions, the right questions.

I recently had a chance to read Warren Berger’s new book – published in 2018:   The Book of Beautiful Questions – the Power Questions that will Help You Decide, Create, Connect and Lead.  It is a book that very ably brings together the best wisdom and practice around the science of asking questions.  The book is a reminder of two things.   That asking questions is essential to leadership, learning and to effective decision making and innovation with our organizations and, second, that it is not merely a matter of questions but of the right questions.   Good questions move things forward in a way that fosters good decision-making, creativity and the capacity and courage to do the right thing.   We urgently need to get beyond any idea that impulsive or spontaneous decision making is in any way effective:   we need thoughtful intentionality that reflects the skill or capacity to ask the right questions of our situation and of those with whom we are living and learning.

I’ve weighed into this “science” with my own publication – Consider Your Calling:   Asking the Right Questions (IVP2016) – convinced that we need to get beyond the sentimentality of “follow your passion”, the theme of the hugely famous Oprah Winfrey graduation speech at Stanford University a number of years ago.    It is never so simple as that; it is never just about “passion.”  Yes, of course, we need to ask what it is that matters to us and what it is that we long for or desire.   But to do good vocational discernment, we need to ask the right questions about our context, our capacities and limitations and our circumstances. 

When it comes to organizations, good questions without doubt include coming to terms with three perspectives – at the very least three.

First, what is our situation?   Can we name our reality so that we have a good read on our circumstances, our challenges and our limitations.  There is no place for either nostalgia or wishful thinking.  We get beyond feeling sorry for ourselves or our situation and question our reality so that we know what is going on.  

Second, we ask about possibilities.   What is truly an option for us, in this situation?   We need to be able to push boundaries, but the options are not unlimited or limitless.  

And then, third, we ask:  what is keeping us from achieving our mission – what we are most urgently called to do:  without overstating who we are or what we could be doing, what should we be doing and what, internally and/or externally, is keeping us from achieving this outcome? 

Each question is about naming reality and seeing possibilities and addressing obstacles all with a view to living and leading more intentionally.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.