Forget the theory of relativity – the best formula lies in asking the right questions
By Sarah Carter, HOME Fundraising
Ask me no questions…
For me, the measure of the person has always been in the questions they ask of themselves and those around them. It is then that true awareness can develop and real change can happen.
Avoiding the questions is where we get ourselves into trouble; it’s when we become complacent, self-satisfied, lazy, disengaged, stuck.
It may be an inability or lack of desire to engage, or sometimes a case of not even knowing the questions that need to be asked in the first place.
Whether they’re questions we ask of ourselves as individuals, our teams, organisations or sector, asking the right questions can be disruptive, difficult and awkward. The process can take us down a path we don’t feel we have the time or inclination to travel down for fear of where it might take us and what we might find. But it can also be transformative, invigorating and life-changing.
As Einstein said…
Albert Einstein said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Of course, we’re not all Einstein. Solving the problem is likely to take us longer than five minutes. But what Einstein does make clear is that the foundations of our success lie in the questions we ask. Where we find ourselves now as individuals and even as a sector is because of the foundations we have or haven’t set in the past, the questions we have or haven’t asked.
Everything starts with us as individuals…
Einstein — clever chap — also recognised that, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
We need to work from a different level of consciousness — to go deeper than may seem obvious or, indeed, initially comfortable and that means starting with us as individuals.
Ask people to check in with themselves:
- Are you doing what you want to do?
- Do you feel like you’re in the right place?
- Do you feel you contribute something?
- Do you feel you’re growing and developing as an individual?
Because if we care enough to ask these questions and people are brave enough to answer them honestly, and we respect those answers, we’re setting the healthy foundations from which everything else has a chance to flourish.
Our impact on those around us…
Ask people to reflect on their impact, on what they’re modelling out to the wider group; their peers, clients and others.
Raise questions like, “If your team was an individual what were they like last week?” (e.g. mood, behaviour, attitude, energy levels) and “What did you bring or not bring to your team to contribute to this overall picture?” It may seem direct, but that is the very point. Challenge people to address what is working and what isn’t and to recognise the part they have played in that. Take time to reflect on their answers and what it means for you as an organisation, a leader and a team player.
Taking time to reflect on the answers…
We don’t expect people to respond to these questions lightly. We want them to spend time with their responses. To listen to themselves. Sit with them for a while. Perhaps move beyond their gut reaction and impulse. We encourage people to recognise where they are now and what they want to become. To be mindful and self-aware.
Because it’s through mindfulness and self-awareness that we become more conscious of what the right questions are. And we become brave enough to follow wherever the answers may take us.
If we can begin to recognise the role we play in the conditions that we find ourselves in, then we have the potential to bring about deep and long-lasting, transformative change.
Sarah Carter is head of leadership at HOME Fundraising, one of the largest fundraising companies in the world. HOME Fundraising is a Resource Alliance Transformative Partner, a group of visionary companies that share our values, and help fund the work we do around the world and to bring our message — and events like the International Fundraising Congress — to the organisations that need them. Sarah will be taking questions during the “Ask Me Anything” session on leadership at IFC 2016, Wednesday 19th October 17:30 – 18:30 with Neil Hope, joint managing director of HOME.