I wish I would have kept track over the years of how many times my questions have helped people achieve breakthrough in their personal or professional lives. While questions can sometimes be intrusive, in the right situation there is nothing that leads to more authentic breakthrough. Only in the past few years have I realized the impact my questioning can have on helping people clarify what they are ultimately trying to do, the reasons they do what they do, or the root causes that are keeping them from their goals.
The reason my questioning is effective at driving clarity is grounded in my core personality and motivation. For those of you familiar with the Enneagram personality framework, I am a “5” which is often defined as “The Investigator” or “The Observer”. The way I process information is by first defining an overall perspective or view of whatever it is I am considering; I often say “I need to know what hook to hang that on.” It is extremely difficult for me to process information, take action, or make decisions without first knowing the context in which I am doing those things. This can be extremely unsettling and annoying in some situation…. but in others, such as working hard to get clarity, it is extremely valuable. I often refer to myself as a “bulldog for clarity” which is simply out of necessity; I have to get clarity before I can move forward with the specific elements. For example, I don’t know how anyone can make a decision about finances (setting a budget, going on vacation, buying a car, giving to a nonprofit) without knowing what their overall financial strategy is; and I have no idea how anyone can have an overall financial strategy without first knowing what their ultimate objectives is in life, leadership or business. This is an extremely annoying posture toward the world when asked to make decisions out of context, but again, it is incredibly valuable when trying to clarify ultimate objectives, determine optimal strategies, and create the most effective & efficient processes.
Only recently have I realized that not everyone is wired like me (thank goodness). Most of you are able to make quick decisions and have impact without the burden of always having to tie everything back to some overarching framework; or even able to move forward despite potentially contradicting frameworks. For this I am jealous. However, I would wager that many of you are realizing that often you are making decisions that contradict each other; that you perhaps don’t have a singular focus that is driving you or your small business or your organization; that your strategies and budgets seem out of synch with whatever your mission is; that you are struggling to keep yourself or your stakeholders engaged. This is where I believe allowing yourself to get grilled with questions, by someone whose personality demand a consistent overarching framework, can add incredible clarity and ultimately value to you personally or to your business or organization. I have seen many times how clarity begets breakthrough; rather than having strategies, finances, staff, processes, meetings, and communications all pulling in different directions, clarity allows them all to become aligned and pulling in the same direction.
Most consultants are experts in their field and they are “brought in” to figure out what the problems are and recommend solutions; and because they are the expert most organizations just do what they are told. And often there are successes because these experts generally know what they are talking about, but there are a few primary reasons I encourage most individuals, businesses and nonprofits to instead look for “question-asking consultancy” rather than “expert consultancy.”
Environment – No one knows you or your organization better than you do; no consultant can incorporate the history, culture, products & stakeholders into decisions made for the path forward better than you can.
Ownership – While the expert consultant provides insights, there is rarely the same level of ownership as when the light bulb goes on for you yourself. Ownership comes from internalizing what needs to be changed far more than having someone else tell you what needs to be changed. Authentic and long-lasting change has to start with deep personal realization and ownership.
Prioritization – Expert consultants will have their experience to draw upon and make recommendations for the areas to prioritize. While this can be valuable, your breakthrough is going to look significantly different than even the most similar situation those consultants have faced. You and your organization are unique; and you need to determine what are the most urgent things to tackle. This may sound daunting, and you may not know where to start, but that is the value of a “question-asking consultant” that has significant experience; they ask the right questions that will lead you to figuring out FOR YOURSELF what the key priorities are and how to go forward. This creates even further ownership because you have wrestled with it yourself; you have leaned on your own knowledge and experience; and you will own not only the decisions but also the breakthrough.
As a “question-asking consultant” my goal is to partner my education, skills, and experience along with my hard-wired nature that demands clarity from vision all the way through to daily processes. While I still take on specific projects (analytics, workforce planning, leadership development) my engagements always start with what I currently refer to as a “Clarity Intensive” — or maybe I should start referring to them as “Grilling Sessions.” These are typically one or two hours long with the focus on asking questions to help individuals and leaders really articulate what they are ultimately trying to do, how they are trying to do it, what is working, and what is holding them back. Sometimes this one meeting alone provides enough insight to move forward and achieve breakthrough. If this is something you want to do, please reach out to me; and we can do this live or through a video conference.
Steve Fredlund, MBA, FSA, SWP