In Leadership Development programs, we often encourage leaders to be more “Coach-like” in their interactions. Meaning to not simply provide an answer or direction but to be curious, dig deeper and to have people come up with their own answers as much as possible. This approach creates challenges for a lot of leaders for many reasons.
The Book of Not Knowing
In his book “The Book of Not Knowing”, Peter Ralston writes: “Simply wanting to know an answer or requesting information is not a true question. Questioning as a genuine and powerful activity is real wondering – dwelling on and wondering about a subject, and being open to the possibility of realizing something about it that you do not now know. Such profound questioning remains unattached to any answer or outcome. Without the power of questioning, there is only knowing. With only knowing, there is no question and so no discovery, no insight, no learning, no mystery and no experience of the authenticity of simply “being”. Questioning demands real wondering, and wondering demands not-knowing.”
Leaders and Coaching Jargon
I often notice leaders latching onto the coaching jargon we’ve provided rather than the much, much deeper intent behind it. For example, when people start using “I’m curious” as an automatic sentence starter. They do this because they’ve been given that as a tool and are told that being curious is good. However, actually BEING curious has quite a different impact than feigning curiosity to replace judgement.
Society and “Knowing”
Above all, when I read this passage in Peter Ralston’s book it highlighted again for me that what is missing is being open to possibility and welcoming the not-knowing place. In our society, we are positively reinforced for knowing. If we know the answer, that makes us smart. If we know lots of stuff, are vocal about the stuff we know and people notice, this is good. We get promoted and get to download our greater knowledge to those around us. This becomes problematic as we evolve out of command and control, and into innovation and creativity. Therefore, if one is promoted because of what one knows, then surely the only way to keep your job is by continuing to know. How can not-knowing be a good skill for leaders?
Welcome Not Knowing
Yet, increasingly, this is becoming a vital skill for leaders of all kinds. Innovation and creativity are being asked for and even demanded. We don’t have the answers, and pretending we do is not going to get us new solutions. Being in the receptive state of not-knowing may just be the answer you were looking for. Try approaching your day from a place of not-knowing and see what you discover.
Originally posted on rosalieboulter.ca website May 2014.
Rosalie Boulter is a partner at Paradigm Shifters Consulting. She loves coaching and educating clients on increasing their self-awareness so that they can recognize, celebrate and more fully utilize their best selves and, in turn, help bring out the best in others. Check out her upcoming event taking place in October 2018 here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/conflict-transformation-tickets-47489029967?aff=ebapi