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The Inquiring Leader™

“The Inquiring Leader” is the title of the last chapter of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life, 3rd edition by Marilee Adams, Ph.D. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers). The book is a quick-read business fable; this short description of an Inquiring Leader provides further detail (in an idealized way) about the concept. An Inquiring Leader can also be thought of as a Learner leader™.

The term Inquiring Leader refers to leaders at any level who are self-aware, curious, solution-oriented, and value asking questions of themselves and others as a core leadership skill. In general, the model and concept of inquiring leadership is meant to complement, enrich, and operationalize effective leadership thinking, communication, behavior, ways of relating, and practices that lead to desired team and organizational results. Inquiring Leaders exemplify the thinking, communication, and collaboration skills associated with authentic, strategic, servant, visionary, adaptive, mindful, transformational, Noetic, humble, and “level 5” leadership.

Characteristically, Inquiring Leaders:

  • are resilient, flexible, mindful, empathic, thoughtful, curious, collaborative, and courageous.
  • understand that the quantity, quality, and intention of people’s questions largely determines their ability to learn, think critically and strategically, build and maintain relationships, gather inform-ation, make decisions, solve problems, manage conflict, and drive positive change as well as effective, sustainable results. They also recognize that “great results begin with great questions” while understanding that “every question missed is a potential crisis waiting to happen.” 
  • are self-reflective, self-correcting, respectful of others, and committed to learning from mistakes. They value continuous learning, growth, and development as the basis of successful and sustainable change.
  • have humility and are comfortable with “not knowing,” “not being right,” ambiguity, and complexity
  • have high emotional, social, and moral intelligence, are proactive and responsive rather than reactive, and are skillful and intentional with self-management, knowing “leading self” is the basis of “leading others.”
  • see the “big picture,” have decision-making expertise, and think short-term, long-term, and systemically.
  • engage in self-reflective, centering, and mindfulness practices that expand their awareness, inner wisdom, and sense of connection and possibility with themselves, others, and the world around them.

Accordingly, Inquiring Leaders:

  • ask open-minded questions of themselves and others in ways that are constructive rather than critical, that seek to uncover and challenge assumptions, that empower creativity and development, and that promote new thinking and possibilities as well as responsibility and accountability.
  • listen carefully and respectfully (especially when not agreeing with what they hear). This listening is focused by solution-seeking questions such as,“What can I learn?” “What’s useful about this?” and “What are our goals?” They do not listen with problem-oriented, blaming questions such as “Whose fault is it?”
  • solicit honest feedback, multiple perspectives, and facts; exhibit political savvy and effective “soft skills.”
  • provide learning, training, and developmental opportunities, such as coaching, mentoring, & mindfulness.
  • create an inquiring culture in their organizations, teams, and conversations by encouraging people to ask open-minded questions of them, each other, internal and external customers, and stakeholders. 

Here are some examples of questions an inquiring leader may ask:

  1. What can I/we learn from this mistake or failure?
  2. Am I listening with an open mind, especially to dissenting opinions or information I don’t like or agree with?
  3. What assumptions am I (are we) making regarding this situation, decision, or policy?
  4. How can I best empower others in developing their leadership skills so we keep our leadership pipeline robust?
  5. How will this decision affect us in the short term and in the long term and what might be unintended consequences both negative and positive?
  6. Am I (are we) behaving consistent with our values?
  7. What inquiry practices can we embed in the everyday culture of our team and organization
  8. How can I/we guard against the tendency to assume I’m right and against looking for quick fix answers?
  9. Am I listening, speaking and behaving with respect, regardless of whom I am speaking with
  10. How can I guard against the expectation that leaders should have all the answers?

Thank you for sharing!

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