Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Airport musings: Random thoughts from a reading while waiting for a plane

With wind in the "Windy City" prompting a so far six-hour (and counting - the crew just left) air traffic delay in reaching my ultimate destination today, I've had an equally unexpected opportunity to finish reading Michael Marquardt's excellent  Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask.

While I wait - and hope - for the chance to meet up with fellow nonprofit scholars at this year's ARNOVA conference, I'll take an opportunity to share a couple of highlights from this morning's reading. No big surprise, the topic is "questions."


The "become what you think about" quote has been my personal mantra for at least two decades, so Marquardt's adaptation caught my attention immediately. It's not a new concept to me  - or to regular readers - but I found the way he frames the role of questions to be incredibly powerful.

People who succeed do so "because of how they question what happens to them and the people and environment around them," Marquardt adds.

What if our boards accepted that challenge as I accepted the challenge of the more well-known idea years ago?  What happens for those boards that maintain an inquiry focus, that routinely tend to what's going on in the larger community/environment around them? What are the rest of them missing?

Let's just ponder that for a bit. (though, obviously, examples of boards who are accomplishing this are welcome!)

In talking about the role of questions in shaping organizational values, Marquardt offers this gem:

"Questions are fateful; they create a conversational agenda, which in turn becomes the context for envisioning and enacting the future. The more positive the question, the more positive will be the potential for transformation."

Clearly, boards must live and work in the real world and within the context of real constraints. But if they only focus on the here and now, if they only muddle through and obsess about what they don't have, they'll never have the chance, or the will, to create and enact the vision of something better. Questions matter. Attitude matters. Focus matters. Love this quote. Will be sharing that one in the future.

Some research, by Marquardt and Roland Yeo, that I will want to explore and possibly share here, focuses on characteristics of successful group problem-solving efforts. They emerged with five elements:

  • "Thoughtful questioning"
  • "Self-directedness"
  • "Learning orientation" 
  • "Deep listening"
  • "Confidence and well-being"

I'm not sure any of these completely surprise me. I'm especially pleased to see number three, obviously. Nurturing a culture of learning matters. But I'm probably most intrigued by the last item, particularly as it might relate to boards.

How do we foster and support within our boards authentic confidence in their work and impact? Note that "authentic" qualifier. Many of us can summon examples of boards that are totally confident - and totally off track from where they should be.

The "well-being" idea also intrigues. What does board "well-being" look like? With what results? I'm feeling the need to explore that one a bit. What does it bring to mind for  you?

My laptop battery is low - almost as low as my hope for actually making to to my conference tonight. If I make it to Chicago, my plan is to share insights and ideas from the governance track. One or two may even have a multimedia twist. In the meantime, I'll leave you with these nuggets from a book that I highly recommend.

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