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ICA Trends

August 2018

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Using Humble Inquiry To Lead, A Manager’s Guide

By Zoe Mackey, 2 August 2018

In a 2014 study by Catalyst, Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth R. Salib identified humility as one of four key leadership behaviors that link to inclusion, which subsequently fosters team citizenship, innovation, a sense of belonging, and a sense of uniqueness. Asking questions might be the surprising element of this approach. The concept of humble inquiry turns the positive humility great leaders display toward their employees into an active practice of nurturing personal relationships. This combination leads to stronger relationships, more engaged employees, reduced turnover, and higher profits.

More Asking, Less Telling

A positive workplace relationship between leaders and employees doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that must be built and nurtured. Edgar H. Schein, former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and father of organizational psychology for the past 50 years, created a strategy called humble inquiry that strengthens relationships between managers and subordinates and ultimately improves the outcomes of any organization.

The idea behind humble inquiry is simple and gentle, impactful and long-lasting.. Instead of making demands of coworkers or telling them what they must do or think, humble inquiry invites them into the conversation as people who can offer valuable contributions. Some benefits of this approach, defined by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein in their book, Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, include employee engagement, empowerment, organizational agility, ambidexterity, and innovation.

Consider this example: You need to understand why someone on your team completed a task in a way that, on the surface, appears problematic. One approach could be to first tell the person of the error or demand an explanation. The subordinate is immediately put on the defensive, and trust and respect suffers. Humble inquiry takes the opposite approach: “You completed this task in a unique way. It would benefit me to understand; could you walk me through your work?” This question, and the respectful questions that follow, establishes collaboration and starts a true discussion that can solve the problem and create rapport for the future.

“Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person,” writes Schein. Implementing the concept, however, can be challenging. Schein identifies three key steps for practicing humble inquiry:

  1. Do less telling.
  2. Learn to do more asking in the particular form of humble inquiry.
  3. Do a better job listening and acknowledging.

Leadership with Collaboration

When communication with leadership is a one-way street, employees can feel disconnected, as if they have nothing to offer—and even if they have something to offer, they aren’t given the opportunity to contribute.

Humble leadership, of which humble inquiry is a key element, inverts this dynamic and moves leadership from a transactional relationship model to one of nurturing personal relationships. The Scheins write in Humble Leadership that the model’s benefits “can flourish in the rapidly changing world when the fundamental relationship between leaders and followers, helpers and clients, and providers and customers becomes more personalized and cooperative.” With humble leadership, employees are encouraged to collaborate, feel heard, and contribute. A small inquiry on a manager’s part can result in a flood of innovative ideas and opinions that otherwise would have never been voiced because workers felt as if they couldn’t say anything. Humble leaders work to build open and trusting relationships because they see the value such connections hold for the overall organization. As the Scheins write in Humble Leadership, “It is up to you to create a learning environment in which you and your group can cooperate in identifying and fixing the processes that solve problems, and maybe then can change the world.”

Consulting with Humility

Humble inquiry and leadership aren’t limited to manager-employee relationships, but can also be applied to consultant-client relationships. Humble consulting places a premium on the human relationships that consultants build with their client organizations. Instead of robotically dispensing advice and collecting a check, this approach emphasizes that consultants take the time to truly understand the client’s concerns prior to charting a course of action.

In the second installment of the Humble Leadership Series, Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster, Edgar H. Schein, writes that humble consulting “presumes that you are committed to being helpful, bring a great deal of honest curiosity, and have the right caring attitude, a willingness to find out what is really on the client’s mind.” At the heart of this model is humble inquiry, which personalizes the process so that you can build a deeper relationship with your client. With this strategy, the client guides the consultant as much as the consultant guides the client—and the benefits include identifying stronger solutions more efficiently.

The Humble Trifecta

Humility as a core business philosophy recognizes that we don’t have all the answers and taking a superior stance diminishes our coworkers, while failing to produce the best solutions. Humble inquiry establishes that conversations are better than lecturing, humble leadership advances the concept into managerial relationships, and humble consulting applies the principles to a consultant-client setting.

The great thing about humble inquiry is that it doesn’t require hours of advanced training or complex planning. It just starts with asking a question, and another, and another. From there, all you need to do is listen.

Using Humble Inquiry To Lead, A Manager’s Guide


By Zoe Mackey, 2 August 2018

在一份Catalyst於2014年進行的調查中,Jeanine Prime與Elizabeth R. Salib發現,謙和(humility)是能夠包容、爾後滋養團隊公民素養、創新、歸屬感、獨特感的四項關鍵領導者行為之一。這樣的做法中,較令人訝異的元素,應該就是提問問題了。謙和探詢將傑出領導者對員工展現的正向謙和態度,轉化成滋養人際關係的積極作法。這樣的組合可強化關係,打造更投入的員工,降低員工離職率,帶來更高的盈利。


領導者與員工之間,若是要建立正向的職場關係,絕非一夕之間就能做到,而是必須慢慢建立與滋養的關係。麻省理工學院管理學院前任教授,同時也是過去五十年來被讚喻為組織心理學之父的Edgar H. Schein就構思了一項稱為謙和探詢的策略,可以強化經理人與下屬關係,並且藉此改善組織效能。

謙和探詢的概念相當簡單且溫和,同時震撼且效果持久。它不對同事提出要求,也不指導他們該怎麼做、怎麼想,而是邀請同仁們以對等的方式對話,視他們為可以提供有價值的貢獻的人。這做法的部分效益都在Edgar H. Schein與Peter A. Shcien共同著作的書《Humle Leadership: The Power of Leadership, Openness, and Trust》中說明,包括員工的投入感、賦權、組織彈性、組織雙元性與創新。



1. 少一點講述

2. 學習用謙和探詢提問多一點問題

3. 學會更積極聆聽與肯定對方



謙和領導力之中,謙和探詢是一個關鍵的元素,將這互動的狀態反轉過來,將領導力從交易式的關係轉換成滋養人際關係的模式。Schein在《謙和領導力》中談及,「謙和探詢讓快速變化世界中,在領導者與追隨者、協助者與受助者 、供應者與顧客之間的關係更個人化、更互相合作時, 效益將更為擴散。」員工在謙和領導力之下更願意合作,感受到自己的聲音被聽到,也更願意投入心力。經理人只要願意提出小小的一個探詢,可能就會引發大量的創新想法與意見,而這些若員工認為自己的意見並不受歡迎,就不會說出來的。謙和的領導者努力建立開放且互信的關係,因為他們知道這樣的連結會幫組織帶來很高的價值。就如 Scheins 在《Humble Leadership》中所說,「必須由你來建立學習性的環境,讓你和你的團體可以合作,一起找出、訂定可以解決問題的過程,或許也可藉此改變這個世界。」



在《謙和領導力系列》的第二部,《Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster》中,Edgar H. Schein表示謙和諮詢的預設,就是「你承諾要提供協助,帶著誠摯的好奇心,擁有對的關心的態度,願意了解顧客真實的需求。」在此模式的核心概念就是謙和探詢,將諮詢的過程個人化,讓你與客戶建立更深的關係。透過此策略,客戶引領顧問,顧問也引領客戶,而能更有效率的找到有強效的方案。




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*ToP Programs (Technology of Participation) are facilitation methods of The Institute of Cultural Affairs). Recognized ToP Trainers: Lawrence Philbrook, Richard West, Gail West, Evelyn Philbrook, Shawn Chung, Laura Hsu, Frieda Lin, Mark Pixley, Jorie Wu, Paulina Pei Lin Chu

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