Questions are the answer for businesses looking to turn the page

By adopting an inquisitive approach to transitions, we can lay the foundations for post-pandemic growth and prosperity
Questions are the answer for businesses looking to turn the page

Business concept, asking questions. For IMI

As we dare to peek ahead at the possibilities of a business world without the shackles of Covid-19, it can be tempting to think we can simply push the reset button.

It is comforting to picture our lives and our businesses picking up the pieces and carrying on, as if the last year had never happened.

The cold, hard truth of this pandemic is that transitions are inevitable. Whether one like this will strike again in our lifetime we simply don’t know.

However, accepting that change is a constant and always will be such should be the starting point as businesses and leaders create the context to manage transitions.

Of course, talking about transitions and actually implementing effective ones are two very different beasts. 

On a human level, our emotional energy has been rapidly waning over the past months — and that has had a domino effect on our organisations and our ability to see the challenges clearly.

I have spoken to some of the world’s most creative leaders, including the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and my research led me to a simple yet powerful conclusion: Questions are the answer.

What most business leaders may not realise is that they each have a set of superpowers to act as a guiding light for any difficult transitions that may lie ahead.

Question burst

The first is what I call the question burst.

I believe that at the core of an innovative and capable leader is the ability to ask catalytic questions that uncover false assumptions and lead them down productive, new paths.

By employing the power of inquiry at every step of a transition into a post-pandemic business landscape, senior leaders will be able to reframe the challenges and unearth previously unimagined opportunities.

The core of my work is truth-seeking, and there is no better tool to get to the root of a business dilemma than by asking the tough questions.

I have given keynote speeches to business leaders all over the world and one of the things I ask of them is to simply take four minutes and, selecting a challenge faced by their business, write down as many questions about it as they can.

I encourage them to focus on the questions that have the most potential to disrupt the status quo, because these are the ones that will ultimately be the most transformative and can lead to a path of innovation and creativity, two key pillars as we look towards recovery.

Purpose

The second superpower is purpose — an oft-cited but little understood tenet of business.

What has been heartening to see as I look across the pond at Ireland’s businesses during the pandemic is the pattern of resilience that has emerged.

Businesses such as Akara Robotics and Calt Dynamics have responded to the disruptive change wrought by the pandemic with purpose, resilience and vigour. By meshing these superpowers, leaders can map out any transition, long or short, and reinvigorate their business.

It comes down to this: What leaders don’t realise is that sometimes they find themselves stuck because they are asking the wrong questions.

While the pandemic has shifted the relationship between CEOs and employees, many senior leaders are still insulated from the most important insights of the business’ reality — what I call the ‘CEO bubble’.

This type of isolation is perilous for businesses on the cusp of bouncing back, so it is critical that senior leaders are actively seeking out the unknown unknowns — what they don’t know they don’t know — before it is too late.

Again, questions are the answer.

Be inquisitive

By adopting an inquisitive and curious mindset as leaders and business entities, the leap from survival to growth and prosperity needn’t be the chasm-like challenge that it first appears.

With the vaccine rollout picking up pace in Ireland and business confidence reportedly jumping to higher levels than seen even before the pandemic, there is a sense of optimism in the air.

It is now up to senior leaders to create a mental model for navigating the transition, and its associated challenges and opportunities. It is time to turn the page. The question is: Are you ready?

Hal Gregersen is a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management, a recipient of the Thinkers50 #1 leadership award and author of 10 books. He recently held a Masterclass event at the IMI, in partnership with Mason, Hayes and Curran, on ‘Leading Successful Transitions During Digital Disruption’.

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