Soliciting questions from inside and out

Working with a group of leaders this week all of whom are engaged in bringing their full selves to complex problems largely in the community, family and social services sector.  Tonight we are co-initiating our work together and I led them through this exercise which was inspired by my friend and colleague Roq Garreau of Centrespoke Consulting:.

  1. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half so that you have a little book with four pages.
  2. On the front of the little book write your leadership challenge, something that you are called into doing, something that occupies much of your attention and that seems unresolvable, something you feel you have to DO.
  3. Write 12 questions down relating to this challenge.  Make them open ended questions and spread out the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.  These are questions you cannot easily answer.
  4. Turn to a fresh page in your litle book and rewrite your challenge
  5. Now mill in the room and pair up with another person.  Simply read your leadership challenge and listen as they offer you three questions.  Don’t explain, don’t justify, just listen.  Those offering questions can just offer the first three things that come to mind.
  6. Once you have collected nine questions, rest and rewrite your challenge one more time.

We then went around the circle and had people read these challenges out. It is a very vulnerable exercise as people shared what they don’t know how to do.  And they become equipped with questions that are deeply embedded in the centre of their work and curveball questions that come from the margins.  These marginal questions have a powerful effect on people and it is a useful reminder that change and challenge often comes from outside of what we think we know.

In the debrief a participant suggested a further step: she offered that embedded in every challenge is a vision of how we want things to be and that in rushing to DOING, we forget PURPOSE.  This is a useful antidote to the more common complaint that “we are spending too much time thinking about PURPOSE and not enough attention on ACTION.”  Purpose and Action are therefore held in a creative tension.

These challenges and questions will travel with people this week, and we have invited our participants to see these as friends.