Mobius Leadership

The Power of a Provocative Question

Posted on: September 6th, 2016 by mobiusleadership No Comments
What would you do if you could?
What are you waiting for?
Who do you need to become to fulfil your dreams?

When was the last time you were stopped in your tracks by a question, a question so big, there just were no words? So big, it took all of your courage to respond honestly.  So big, you knew the answer might change the direction of your life, your career.

Questions of this nature may be more accurately described as inquiries – that’s what they are asking of us – to inquire into something – to explore, to try something on. Not to necessarily come up with a ‘right’ answer or the solution but to travel to the edges of our imagination, draw on our intuitive knowing and see what resides there and how it can guide us in our choices and decisions.

Be ready for some discomfort! Sitting with provocative questions or inquiries can make us uncomfortable at times – of course, they are meant to. Their very purpose is to challenge the status quo. However, the reward for giving them space and attention can be rich.

Deeply committing to reflecting on an inquiry takes you on a journey of self-discovery. Among the riches in store, are greater clarity, increased self-awareness and sense of purpose, all of which are of value when it comes to making the choices life asks of us.

Sometimes we can be truly knocked off balance by the question, a whole new perspective opens up, a new paradigm comes into view.

The story of the neuroscientist Richard Davidson comes to mind. Davidson had spent his career studying how some people are more resilient to ‘life’s slings and arrows’ than others. When the Dalai Lama met with him, he asked “You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?”. Davidson didn’t have a good answer – but the question ultimately led to him changing the direction of his research and establishing The Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin.

A really powerful question is often met with silence. A long silence.

The temptation can be to fill the void – it feels awkward and uncomfortable – we hurriedly rephrase or reframe the question often diluting the impact. Resist that temptation. Silence is OK – silence allows processing, checking in with mind, heart and gut to respond authentically, honestly, courageously.

One of my favourite questions comes at the end of the poem The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver. Here’s my invitation – take her inquiry, sit a while and see what emerges for you.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


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