Why Leaders Ask and Don't Tell: An Interview with Edgar Schein

Did you know that many major disasters could have been avoided had a junior person felt comfortable speaking up? 
Lisa B. Marshall
3-minute read
Episode #344
Many thanks to Holly Peterson, a listener who recommended that I read a book called Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein. It’s a book that I think every person on the planet should read. It’s a book about the importance of drawing people out, about building relationships by asking genuinely curious questions. 
Why do I think it’s such an important book? 
From a personal communication perspective, parents, like me, need to be able to talk to our kids so that they talk back! We need to have our kids talk to us—especially when things go wrong. 
I’m happy to say that I believe that my Dad was a pioneer in humble inquiry. He didn’t know it—he didn’t call it that—but he certainly was an expert. He would ask me question after question—and not like he was  interrogating me. His questions were out of pure curiosity; if he sensed that a subject was important to me, he’d ask me about it and his follow-up questions always demonstrated that he was listening carefully. He always made me feel like he wanted to know more. We had a really close relationship. So humble inquiry is a skill that I think is important for every parent.  
From an organizational perspective, a boss needs to be able to talk with her subordinates so that team members feel comfortable sharing critical information. In fact, the success of a company depends on it. Everyone in an organization needs to feel like they can tell their boss what’s really going on so that the boss can assist them and they can assist their boss. When organizations are able to communicate in this way, there is far less rework and fewer mistakes.  
For me, this is a book that helps us to create a climate where it’s safe to tell the truth (whether that’s in families or organizations).   
Humble Inquiry really resonated with me. That’s why I invited the author, Edgar Schein, for an interview.  He’s a retired professor emeritus of MIT Sloan School of Management. He’s basically the founder of an entire field called organizational development. He says that this book, Humble Inquiry, is the culmination of his life’s work. If you are only reading one book of his, this is the one you should be reading!  
In the meantime, listen to the interview to learn:
  • Why a conversation about a mushroom inspired Ed to write the book
  • Exactly what humble inquiry is and why it’s so important in our personal lives
  • Why humble inquiry is an important concept for teams, organizations, and leaders
  • Four different types of inquiry and how they can help you expand the conversation
  • What you can do to facilitate humble inquiry in your life and at work—it's easier than you think! 

This podcast is definitely worth a listen. It might even change your life. Really.  I also just want to thank Holly. It was a pleasure talking with you.

If you've got a book you think I'd like to share with listeners, recommend it to me on Goodreads or shoot me an email. 

This is Lisa B. Marshall moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful Presenter, Expert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.   
As always your success is my business


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.