When it comes to leading during times of chaos, how do you show up? Do you whip out your expertise to tame the uncertainty people are experiencing? Or do you admit that you don’t have all the answers but want to work together to find ways to make things better?
“We face a future of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity due to the current political, economic and cultural instability in which we find ourselves,” explained Professor Edgar Schein, author of Humble Leadership, when we interviewed him recently. “Leaders who can take a humble inquiry approach can accept this and adopt an attitude of curiosity as they invite people to share information and make group-based decisions.”
Leading from a place of humble inquiry can be challenging in a world where “experts” have become richly rewarded and celebrated. Often, people have become heavily invested in information bubbles that proclaim to be the only source of true facts. However, as President Volodymyr Zelensky noted as Russia invaded Ukraine, “We are different. But it is not a reason to be enemies.”
“An attitude of humble inquiry when approaching our relationships allows us to build a bridge of empathy and connection across our information bubbles,” explained Edgar. “It allows multiple perspectives to be respectfully considered and to surface shared hopes on which a solution can be built.”
So, how can you find the courage to be a humble leader in the face of uncertainty?
- Get curious about yourself – Tune into the situations where your negative feelings limit the way you approach certain relationships. Instead of continuing with a heart at war, try to understand where your approach to this relationship may be going wrong and how you might be able to engage with a heart at peace. Remember that the things we least like in others often reflect what we don’t like about ourselves. Get curious about what is being sparked within you during these interactions. What inner work do you need to do to resolve rather than projecting it on someone else?
- Ask: What else is going on? – 99.9% of the time, people are doing the best they can with what they have at that moment. Of course, this doesn’t mean everything is going to plan or that what is being done can’t be improved upon. Start from this belief rather than the fear that people are intentionally being lazy, deceiving you, or manipulating you. Then it’s easier to slow down when things aren’t working and ask: “What else is going on?” Don’t assume that you know what their intentions are, what actions they are taking, or that they are aware of their impact on you and others. Instead, start asking blame-free questions to understand what else is going on in this situation and how you can find a better way forward together.
- Be mindful of telling – When you feel under pressure, slipping into telling mode can help us feel like we’re getting things under control. Clearly telling people what to do in a life-threatening crisis – like when a building is burning down – is helpful and warranted. However, in most day-to-day situations, unfortunately your advice is nowhere near as good as you think it is. By staying with your attitude of humble inquiry and asking questions that allow people to surface their own answers, people are far more likely to take responsibility for their actions.
What are the humble questions that you’re asking?