Using Mindful Inquiry as a Leader

by Alexis James on August 26, 2019

in Leadership


Mindful Inquiry is a tool used by therapists, teachers, and empathetic leaders alike. It is the art of using questions to gain additional information without judgement. I argue it is a tool that needs to make its way into not-for-profit and corporate cultures.

As leaders we tend to lead from a place declaration using imperatives or exclamation. How might your company’s culture change if you made a shift to using Mindful Inquiry more often?

While the declarative (“I think you should do this”), the imperative (“Do this”) and even the exclamatory (“Do this now!”) all get a fair amount of play (hopefully with “please” peppered in), not enough leaders are asking enough questions. Surely, all interrogatory sentences are not equal. Although leading questions (“Don’t you think I’m right?”) and rhetorical questions (“What do you think I am, an idiot?”) are technically interrogatives, they will not advance your leadership competency.

Behold the humble question. I define it as being genuinely solicitous of another’s perspective, and requires relinquishing both ego and control. For example, the interrogatory “What do you think?” may suggest you don’t know. The answer you receive may undermine your plan or approach, and therefore your control over the situation. However, a wise person knows that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Asking questions gives you additional perspectives. Additional perspectives help ensure an informed decision, approach or direction. If someone feels that their perspective is respected, it is more likely you will obtain buy-in even if you are not in total agreement. And if you have buy-in you’re less likely to have subtle (or not-so-subtle) attempts to undermine your decision down the road.

Questioning why we don’t ask more questions is itself an interrogatory that would benefit most leaders. From where does this reluctance stem? A distaste for conflict? Fear of appearing ill-informed? Concerns about relinquishing control? Afraid you won’t like the answer? All are worthy of exploration and will serve as valuable leadership development lessons. Besides, there are better ways to address these concerns than pretending they don’t exist and avoiding questions entirely.

Some might consider using questions as a leadership tool to be prosaic, others profound. But they make employees happy. They make clients happy. Want to be a better leader? Ask more questions!

See below for questions based from Mindful Inquiry practices:

“What I heard you say was…”
“Tell me more about what you meant by…”
“How can I support you with…”

Find out more about everyday applications of Mindful Inquiry in our Effective Meeting Facilitation training.

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