Friday, October 2, 2009

the next question

I sat with a young man this week, discussing the field of ethics and values, especially as they 1) relate to business; and 2) are shaped by one's faith and theology. It was a wonderful conversation, going from books we are reading or have read, to ways of teaching ethics, to why one does the things they do - and that was what we decided should always be THE NEXT QUESTION.

It seems to me that the way we learn and develop - especially in our leadership roles - is to ponder the question of why we think, say and do the things we think, say and do. What is it that causes one to act in one way at one time - and another way at another time? What influences have been acting upon someone in any given circumstance to make them say those words that come out of thier mouth?What belief system (or other voices in one's head) directs the action for them to behave in a certain manner?

My freshmen students get a lot of this from me in the classroom - why do you think that is true? why did you choose that answer? what experience have you had that makes you think that way? But for me as a 50-year old adult, I have to face those questions in real life - NOT in a classroom. So what does that look like for me?

Over the past week, I have had multiple opportunities to ask this question of myself:

  • as I listened to students complain, I had to ask myself why I was sympathetic with them at that point
  • as I campaigned to get rid of an event on campus, I had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about this issue
  • as I sat nervously answering someone else's questions about something I had done, I had to ask myself why I would feel that I had been right all along
  • as I engaged in dialogue with a local enviromental activist at our Speaker Series, I had to ask myself why I was so attracted to his story
  • as I argued against a recent policy that had been made, I had to ask myself why I was so angry and upset over that specific decision

And the list goes on and on. I believe that asking the WHY question does several things for me:

  1. It helps me to clarify the main issue
  2. It allows me to make a better judgement about the rightness or wrongness of my decision/feelings
  3. It fuels (or dissolves) my decision to move forward on the issue
  4. It puts my thoughts, actions and feelings into perspective
  5. It helps me to better articulate my thoughts on the subject
  6. It gives me reasons whether or not to pursue the issue or action to the next level

So start the habit of asking THE NEXT QUESTION...why do I think, say and act in the ways I do? It is in those answers that one can find their true selves and lead from their core being.


Matt Grahn said...

Once again, a gem! I agree with you on this. I think the next step is being truly honest with ourselves. People can justify why, but in reality have selfish alterior motives.

This is a wonderfully useful drill for leaders! I appreciate you sharing and, as always, look forward to next Friday with a new topic!

Don Christian said...

Being honest with oneself is truly the hard part. I wonder how we can have some outside accountability in this practice? Maybe a trusted friend whom we can ask, "I think I reacted that way because...what do you think?"