Questionable Leadership

This blogpost is prompted by my reading of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger (2014).

What if our school leaders asked more questions?

I’ve been wondering what it might be like to work in a school where there is a culture of questioning. I think this would need to start at the top to role model acceptance of potentially disruptive questions. Berger posits that there is an inverse relationship between questioning and expertise. That is, as we get more knowledgable about a topic we question less. I wonder if this isn’t often (sometimes? occasionally?) the case with school leaders.

What if we were more comfortable with our own ignorance?

If we are comfortable that we don’t know, and aware that we don’t know, then we might be prompted to ask questions. How else do you learn if you don’t first pose a question? How else can you understand others’ assumptions or the systems of an organisation if you don’t ask: why We could even start by centring the foundation of the school around a question.

What if we had mission questions instead of mission statements?

A question is engaging. It points forward. It can be a motivating and collaborative experience. “Tim Brown, the chief executive at IDEO, points out that questions, by their very nature, challenge people and invite them to engage with an idea or an issue – and could therefore do likewise in engaging employees with a company mission.” (p. 163)

What might a culture of questioning be like?

I think questioning is a great leveller. If leaders are prepared to ask questions borne of their own genuine curiosity to discover more, this can fundamentally shift power structures. A leader is no longer the sole expert. Others might have the answers that you seek. If we were to, as Berger suggests, let listening inform questioning (p. 98), I think this could be transformational.

To listen is to be respectful. Respect, I think, builds empathy and trust. Questioning is a way to bridge divides. Berger quotes Jon Bond, who considers “questions to be ‘the verbal equivalent of nonviolent conflict resolution’” (pp. 205-6). If we seek to understand another’s point of view, then we might be able to find a way forward.

I think this process would take time. It is an investment in people. But I think it could be powerful and ultimately transformative. Questioning is a way to disrupt with humility.

What question might you ask today?

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