Saturday, February 23, 2019

Leadership Lesson 1: The Value of Inquiry

Associated Leadership Expectation: Communicate Effectively

In his work, Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein discusses the three types of humility and how they apply to our ability to lead:

Basic Humility 
Basic Humility is the way we subconsciously defer to others based on our unspoken social rank in any group of people. When we outrank those around us socially, we have expectations for the way they treat us. These expectations arise from the modeling we received as impressionable young people. An example is the automatic deference we offer to “the popular kids” or “the attractive kids” or even “the wealthier kids.” This behavior becomes more complex as we mature.

Optional Humility
Optional Humility is the way we decide whether or not to defer to those around us and is based on achieved status, such as job role or educational degree. As we move through the world, we make choices concerning to whom we will express humility and from whom we expect deference. An example would be a new supervisor providing space to be mentored by one with more tenure.

Here-and-Now Humility
This type of humility is a conscious choice to express humility, often in the form of a question, based on what the author describes as a temporary dependence. For example, a director is often three levels of staffing ranks removed from the front line staff; therefore, they become dependent on the front line staff members to provide them with the answers to their questions about the way their jobs fit into the greater department. In our religious world, the highest ranking spiritual leaders, particularly of those organizations that have multiple local congregations, must rely on information from the local congregants to fully understand how any proposed changes will affect the organization overall.

Despite the unfortunate choice in terms, the notion that we as leaders require the feedback from the front line managers, supervisors, and staff is an important one. Without their knowledge, we cannot hope to lead in a manner that inspires them to follow us. The best way to find answers is to ask questions: the right questions, to the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Next time we need information from our staff, want to figure out how something works, or find inspiration for managing change in our areas, the success we experience may be more directly related to HOW we ask for the information we need than we realize.

Tip #1: The way we ask for information determines the quality of the information we receive. 

Schein, E.H. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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