In my recent blog on asking the right questions, I make this statement: Those who ask the best questions are often the target of criticism for asking what are considered irritating questions while the answers to those questions often go unaddressed. Rather than focusing on the question, the organization often focuses on the one who asked it.
This raises a related question: Why are we not more curious about what is happening in our organizations? In fact, the reason that we often resist good questions and target those who ask them is that it makes us uncomfortable.
In her excellent book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown suggests that "Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn't be asking, and, sometimes, make discoveries that lead to discomfort."
That is a profound statement. And, the truth is that it is those discoveries that lead to discomfort that cause us to learn, grow and get better. Comfort is not what causes us to get better. Discomfort is.
It follows that the best leaders are not those who choose comfort but those who are willing to be uncomfortable and in that discomfort discover and dialogue about things they would not otherwise dialogue about.
Here is the truth about organizations. They always gravitate toward comfort. They just do! The best leaders create discomfort. They create waves without sinking the ship in order to discover new answers and confront the uncomfortable.
This is also why organizations move from being missional to being institutional. In the former there is discomfort but in the latter, the rule becomes, "don't rock the boat." Those who do rock the boat are often labeled as troublemakers when in fact, they are one of your most valuable assets. By the time you discover that truth, they are often long gone because their curiosity and questions were unwelcome.
Church and non-profit boards are notorious for not asking the right questions and for guarding the status quo rather than choosing the vulnerability of curiosity and the attending discomfort. A great exercise is to do a whiteboard session where everyone is invited to ask the hardest questions they can about their organization. Not to criticize but to challenge the status quo, create discomfort all around and see if we are satisfied with our answers.
I recently worked with a non-profit where the interviews with constituents raised significant questions around common themes. The discomfort of the senior leader and board caused the results to be put on ice and the conversation stopped. There was no curiosity or honest conversation. Just, defensiveness and a desire to keep the status quo. And the organization will pay the price for that response.
It is in choosing to be curious as Brene Brown says, that we make discoveries that lead to discomfort. And it it there that we can get better. But you have to be open to curiosity and hard questions in order to get there.