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Asking questions gives such a powerful leverage in some organizations, and yet the ability to ask critical questions and to listen might not be considered critical organizational capabilities. Why is that?

Organizations assume that employees do not need to learn how to listen and/or how to ask questions. And those are – in my opinion – two of the greatest delusions organizations live by.

I see constantly organizations struggling with complexity, that same complexity that requires more listening in order to uncover new perspectives. An inquiring heart that allows one to ask the right questions: nothing is more critical in the workplace.

Two very bad lessons…

The quality of our listening to each other is not great. We are usually focused on our impressions, interpretations, perspective, and opinions of what and whom we are listening to. We are often unable to create the silence and the internal “clearing” that empties “the cup of our being” to refill it with the speaker’s.

Yet we were terrific at doing this as children. Think about the complete focus of a child on every single word as you tell him a story. Think about the questions children ask: what does it mean to be free? Why are people poor? How expensive is a tree?..

And many of our questions go for the techniques, steps, formulas that will deliver us—never for the intent, or the bigger picture, or the meaning of it all…

Yet we used to be great at doing both as children. Think about  the complete focus of a child on every single word of yours as you tell him a story…and think about the questions children ask: what does it mean to be free? Why are people poor? How expensive is a tree?…

Somewhere, somehow we learned two very bad lessons:

  1. Listening is not communicating.
  2. Solving problems is not about asking great questions.

Deep down we have the capacity to ask deep, great questions. We have the capacity for deep, emphatic listening. It is available to us right now. Not tomorrow, not after practice, not after attending this class. We haven’t forgotten, we simply do not remember it anymore.

And we need to be reminded of that.

Today, will I have the courage to be myself?

We can bring back this ability to really talk and to really listen if we want to. It’s all about our willingness to notice. And to do this inner work of leadership.

Because ultimately this is about a much bigger question—about how we decide to be in the world. Not just at work but everywhere. It’s about answering the key question: Who am I?

For this reason the answer to the HOW question (how to do something) is WHO. The question we should always ask, especially when we learn a new technique or skill, is actually “Who am I? Who do I decide to be today? How will I be myself in the world? How will I show up to meet the many challenges of the workplace? Today, will I have the courage to use this new skill and to be myself doing so in a world that tries constantly to make me anybody else?

Go ahead. Remember. And answer.

Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA.  A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership"  with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!

Adriano Pianesi |