I ask a lot of questions. It’s my natural mode of interaction with others. Maybe it’s the teacher in me that lingers: To ask questions as a way of gaining information and to believe – as I used to assure my students – that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
I was prompted to reflect on my own questioning in reading about Hollywood producer Brian Grazer – filmmaking partner of Ron Howard – who’s written a book titled A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. In it he talks about his natural tendency to ask questions and how he uses questions as a management tool – to encourage others to make their case, share a concern, to engage. As I read his rationale, I felt more secure about my habit of leading with questions. And I thought about my clients and nonprofits generally. Is there enough questioning in most nonprofits? Is there in yours?
Getting Comfortable with Questions
Grazer equates questioning with curiosity. He credits his grandmother, who helped him overcome the struggle of having dyslexia, a serious reading disability, by praising his curiosity. From my experience I agree that wanting to know prompts questions. I also believe that having someone – or more broadly, an atmosphere – that encourages curiosity and questioning is critical.
Let’s be honest, asking questions isn’t always viewed as positive. Full disclosure: I have friends who tell me I ask too many. Except for those times when I may have wandered into personal territory that was meant to be off limits, I don’t agree. But I also believe there are all sorts of reasons why people are question shy, and one I’ve observed often – in children and adults – is fear of revealing what you don’t know. Put more bluntly, looking stupid. Think about organizations – for profit and nonprofit – and how they operate. Is it a given that it’s okay not to know everything? Perhaps that’s why Brian Grazer’s story speaks to me so strongly – finally, a fellow champion of asking questions!
Never Too Many
I’ve made the case for board education over and over because governance mistakes happen when boards are not fully informed. What’s the atmosphere in your organization’s board meetings? Do members feel comfortable asking questions if they don’t understand? Are topics discussed around thoughtful questions before decisions are made?
Asking questions isn’t just a board function. Does your development office ask enough questions about current and would-be donors? Do you know what most donors know about your organization? Do you know why they give – or if they stop giving, why? Does your top executive know what motivates or concerns staff members? Are there good ideas not being tapped because no one is asking?
Let me be clear. Of course questions must be appropriately and respectfully phrased. I’m not saying anything goes in the realm of questioning. But if you’re not asking questions – and lots of them – in your professional realm, why not?
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