You might say that as we get older, we become more adept at asking questions. But is that really the case?

Should a leader have all the answers? 

Children naturally wonder. They ask questions out of open-mindedness and curiosity. Without thinking about what someone else will think of this question. Just doing. This in part determines their learning experience. You would say that as we get older, we become more adept at this. But is this really the case?

The answer is no. As we get older, we get worse at asking questions. Why is that?

Our education system may be changing, but it no longer affects today's working people. What we have all experienced to a greater or lesser extent is that if you asked too many questions to the teacher, the teacher had to slow you down because he didn't have time for that. He had to run down his curriculum and he had many more kids in the class. Suppose they were all firing hundreds of questions at the teacher in a day and he was going to discuss and research them extensively? Then he would not have time to cover all the other important and mandatory information that he would have to teach the children now!
The education system was not and is not at all set up for self-examination.

I deliberately make it black and white in this blog. For generations, we as children have been taught that the teacher asks the questions and we as children must provide the answers.
Not only at school, but also at home. As an example: You just came from work; exhausted, you prefer to fall on the couch. Then your sweet child comes to you full of energy and joy and wants to play with you, to be read to. He is brimming with new experiences and questions that arise in him at the moment. What have you got there? Are you going to play soccer with me? Can I have a piece of candy? Why not?

The moment the question is asked never seems to come out. You always have something else to do. After all, I'm here too! I have to leave, I have to ... !
To go crazy, right?

The time factor, then, seems to be a major reason we deprive children - consciously and unconsciously, in the delusion of the day - of the ability to further their learning through questioning. We make them reactive.

The child has become a manager

And then the time comes. The child grows up, goes to work and builds up a huge backpack full of learning history. Learning history that is different for everyone because of the accumulation of knowledge and experience. He makes a career and becomes a manager, a leader. The manager of old was an important crossroads of information and had the knowledge, gave orders. He could get by with that for a long time. But is that still the case?

In today's VUCA era, knowledge of today, may be obsolete tomorrow. What would happen if today's leader still thinks his knowledge and obtained information is the truth tomorrow as well?

The world around us is changing at an exponential rate in which business models and jobs that everyone always thought were for life are disappearing. A reactive learning style no longer fits with that.
At least, if you still want to stay sustainable in the job market and be meaningful.

The importance of the question

During action-learning sessions with coordinators, project leaders, managers, directors and administrators, it is always striking how experienced these people are. They have been through a lot, seen everything, have a solution for everything.

What also stands out is that they have limited time, can be impatient, need to make decisions, need to get results.

All true and important! But oh so dangerous.

I once read something along the lines of: (1) Knowledge without action is worthless, (2) action without knowledge is dangerous, and (3) action with yesterday's knowledge is disastrous.

And yet, action-learning sessions show that this is how we reach decision-making.
Because someone describes their problem (challenge) as they experience it in their own work environment and in no time others know what the solution is. Ready, who follows?

Briefly back. What have we solved now?

How well is someone single-handedly able to make a good problem definition at once? Regardless of his knowledge and experience, I would argue: NOT.
This is substantiated by the outcomes in the action-learning sessions. As soon as people ask open-ended questions without any judgment or solution embedded in them, it appears that a different problem definition underlies them.

So if it's another problem, what did we actually solve in the situation where we were done in no time? In doing so, didn't we potentially create new problems?

Now that the real problem has been defined, it is possible to examine the possible solutions and which one best fits this situation. Because every situation is different, so you can't just project a solution that has worked for you in another situation. Ten to one that there have also been other people's situations where your solution has not worked at all.

Doesn't that leave the real problem unsolved and continue to bother us on a daily basis? Is the solution really a solution and is it supported by the important stakeholders?

Have we then released budget in time and money for something that should not be spent on? Because you can only spend the budget in time and money once and thus this directly impacts all other challenges.

Isn't that perhaps where employers and employees' feelings of busyness, chaos and powerlessness also come from?

Are we able to come to new insights?

Dr. Bohm is clear on this, stating that dialogue moves people beyond the impasse of conflict and argument and allows for the formation of new understandings.
Dr. Revans, the founder of action learning, reaches similar conclusions.

Actually, they observe that the natural way of learning as we do as children is the way to proactively learn and progress. Nature is not so crazy!

And isn't coming to new understandings one of the basic conditions for change?

If you agree with this, you have immediately grasped one of the most important skills on the basis of which change (read: adaptive) capacity can take place, namely, investigative dialogue.

And yes, we as human beings are capable of new insights. Dreams come true. It's there by nature.

However, our pitfall, for example, to a greater or lesser extent, is our backpack and difficulty in letting go of the old, that we can act flexibly, can't use counterarguments and could be guided by social and groups conformity.

And so I could name several more executive skills that ultimately determine the degree to which we are successful and how quickly we can master new situations.

But even there, nature has helped us, because research shows that our brains are malleable by everything we think, feel, do and see; in other words, experience.
So everyone can change, no matter how long someone has been around.

World Institute for Action Learning - Netherlands, Frank Campman MBA PALC - August 2021