Find the why
In his iconic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey ranks listening as habit number 5. He notes that listening with a reply in mind doesn't allow us to truly understand; instead, our goal should be to ask the right questions.
Without asking the questions, we don't get the answers or innovations we need to solve issues and share best practices. This holds true for patient, workforce, and efficiency outcomes. Data aren't enough—you have to go further. Maybe it isn't the right data or it doesn't tell the whole story. Scrutinize until you know.
We've all heard of the “five whys” in a just culture environment when we ask “why” repeatedly until we get to the root cause. Until we keep asking at each revelation, we won't reach the source. Currently, some believe that five levels are inadequate; we may need “many whys” to grapple with cause and effect within complex systems fraught with human factors. Solutions come from knowing reasons and consequences, not jumping to conclusions.
A culture of inquiry is the Holy Grail for evidence-based practice, described by the National League for Nursing as a persistent sense of curiosity. Asking questions and challenging the status quo aren't just for clinical practice; queries should be raised every day to inform our leadership practice, as well. Examples from just one afternoon on my calendar include recruitment, retention, working hours, certification, orientation, Magnet® standards, and quality approaches—all substrate for examination and research.
How about the rationale for initiatives? Understanding why something is important is critical to staff engagement and our own buy-in. Inspirational leadership connects to values, and taking the time to make those links contributes to a higher likelihood of successful change. Explanations help staff members find meaning, significance, and a higher purpose. If you can't connect to a reason that makes sense to you or if you can't explain why something is important, then maybe it isn't... or you haven't asked the right questions.
The message is simple: question, learn, and explain. Why? Because it's our duty as leaders to improve practice, ensure that our work is valuable, and facilitate engagement. Ask until there are no more answers, and clarify until there are no more questions—strategy and satisfaction at the same time.