home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
Posted April 30, 2015

Book: Deepening Engagement: Essential Wisdom for Listening and Leading with Purpose, Meaning and Joy
Author: Diane M. Millis
Skylight Paths, Woodstock, Vermont. 2015. Pp. 149

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

"Is it possible for our institutions of work to become, in the words of American political analyst Yuval Levin, 'soul-forming institutions'? If so, what does leadership become? In this book, Dr. Millis clears a path and points the way for those willing to set out on this journey. The personal stories she asks us to ponder and put into practice transform abstract ideas such as 'deep engagement' into living realities. Leadership becomes a personal quest and calling."

An Excerpt from the Book:

Ask Heart-Awakening Questions

No other person can ever chart a course for you, but a friend and a host who is really present can at times firm up what you in your own deepest heart of hearts have already felt drawing at you. ---Douglas Steere, On Being Present Where You Are


"Have you ever told your story before?"
"Why not?"
"No one ever asked."

Dave Isay wanted to change that. In 2003, he set up a recording booth in Grand Central Station and launched the StoryCorps Project. Isay had learned, through his work as a documentary radio producer, that a microphone gives people permission to ask questions of others that they normally wouldn't ask. Since then, close to fifty thousand people have been asked by a friend or family member to share their stories in one of the StoryCorps recording booths found throughout the country. Isay reflects in his book Ties That Bind, "We can discover the most profound and exquisite poetry in the words and stories of the noncelebrated people around us, if we just have the courage to ask meaningful questions and the patience to listen closely to the answers.

Asking meaningful questions requires courage because asking is such a countercultural activity in our tell culture, observes Edgar Schein in his recent book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Schein has taught and studied organizational dynamics throughout his career and observes,

"Our pragmatic, problem-solving culture values people who know things and tell others what they know. In such a culture, having to ask is perceived to be a sign of weakness or ignorance. Asking temporarily empowers the other person in the conversation and temporarily makes me vulnerable."

Those with the most authority tend to tell more often than ask, and those who ask are often viewed as either naive or bothersome or both. Case in point: Just last week, a client recalled how her boss told her not to ask so many questions during meetings. He insisted, "It makes it seem as if you don't know what you're doing." Yet the primary benefits of asking, according to Schein, are that we generate better ideas, make fewer errors in judgement, and increase our agility.

Our tell culture is so pervasive that many of the questions we do ask are just another form of telling. Our questions reveal our assumptions, reflect our projections, and relay our agendas. In asking questions, we often have an answer already in mind. For example:

Do you really think that [x,y, or z] is a good idea?

Have you always been so overly concerned with what your boss thinks of you?

Have you thought about using this approach instead?

We tend to offer thinly veiled advice through our questions instead of seeking to better understand another's perspective.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Engaging Our True Self
Be who you are
Make use of everything
Cultivate stillness
Heed the whispers
Shift your vision
Notice what nourishes
Clean your compass often
Honor your grief

Part Two: Engaging One Another
Abandon your hat
Open to what is unfolding
Turn to wonder
Polish your mirror
Keep it fresh
Listen generously
Ask heart-awakening questions
Speak about growth and possibility

Part Three: Cultivating Engaging Communities
Learn from everyone
Act on what matters
Fan the flame
Scan for joy
Hold the tension
Mine the meaning
Improvise often
Concentrate on the relationships