Leading With a Question

In the last month, I’ve spoken with multiple nonprofit leaders who see a lot of uncertainty on the horizon and are feeling a bit paralyzed by it all. As I coach, converse, and commiserate, I’ve wanted to help them find a touchstone, something reliable in the midst of the unknown.

It finally came to me the other day when I was reading something about the power of questions ­– we love a good question at Third Space Studio. For generations, philosophers and religious leaders have reminded us that asking and welcoming questions provides us with guidance and direction. Ranier Maria Rilke implored us to “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

What if nonprofit leaders had a reliable question that they could consistently pose when faced with a new challenge or opportunity? A question that would evoke the organization’s core identity and its intentions and remind them of what is truly important. The question needs to be a reminder of the organization’s desired impact; values; and the strengths and assets that set it apart from other organizations and attract needed talent, attention, and resources.

So here is a sample of guiding questions that some of the leaders that we work with might use to guide their decision-making in the midst of the new challenges and opportunities of an uncertain future.

For the organizer looking to build a base of people with a voice and a sense of power:
What are the possible actions for our constituency and how do those actions enhance the abilities of those that act?

For the organization looking to advance a desired impact that includes their members being viewed as respected professionals with expertise:
What are the opportunities that we can use to build our profession?

For the leader of an agency who serves a vulnerable population of children:
What do our children and their families most need now and how do we mitigate those threats?
For the leader weaving together a collaborative network:
What are the opportunities to inspire greater collective action?
As you think about your organization’s intentions and identity, what’s your guiding question? We’d love to hear what you come up with.