Finding Nuance, Choosing Curiosity, and Embracing a Culture of Interrogation

Finding Nuance, Choosing Curiosity, and Embracing a Culture of Interrogation
By Karen Hewitt (ze/hir/she/her)
Associate Director, Leadership Columbus

Writing and creating art was the first I learned about curiosity and nuance. There is nuance in every situation to some degree. Over time, the more complicated the situation, the easier it was for me to find and address nuance. Of course, I miss things here and there but ultimately, I am always looking for the nuance present and working to navigate that. 

It is quite challenging work. 

A late-in-life diagnosis of Autism 1 and ADHD has made it easier for me to accept how nuance is always present and why I am always searching for it and seeing it. Nuance is present, and it is up to us to acknowledge it. But it is complicated. It requires intention, slowing down, and cultural responsiveness and awareness. Often, nuance is lacking when folks have made choices to make quick decisions, aren’t as inclusive as possible, and look past all that is presenting itself at the moment. 

In looking for nuance, this is where curiosity comes in. 

Curiosity requires effort on my part: intellectual, emotional, and energetic. When I am curious, I put my ego aside and allow as much wonder in the space as possible. I determine a lot of the next steps in my moments of curiosity. I also have come to realize that curiosity is an art. There is a craft to asking the right questions, leaning into reading between the lines, and finding the questions that everyone wants to ask but lacks the courage to do so. I have found that when I am curious, the options expand exponentially, and understanding abounds in multiple ways. 

This blog is an invitation: an opportunity to discuss my gratitude for nuance and curiosity and hopefully provide some tools that may help you become more curious and see nuance more expansively. 

In the leadership spaces I am in, appreciating nuance and asking others to be curious (instead of ‘right’ or in control) is a revolutionary act. Currently, this is a very challenging time for many. Fundamental human rights are often on the table for a vote. Fact-checking and literary integrity is an old pastime that seems to be lost in current journalism and social media. Money, power, and control seem to lead the way in word and deed. We use buzzwords like Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Psychological Safety without giving the time required to create inclusion within our organizations. Inclusion takes time. It takes us slowing down and considering the nuance of who is in the room, what is impacting all of them right now, and how we can move towards a common goal. Inclusion asks us to clearly define who we want to lead and invite them in. 

I am connecting that if people really want inclusive workspaces that create psychological safety, belonging, a culture of accountability, and wellness, we need to get curious and embrace nuance. 

At Leadership Columbus, we focus on creating a culture of interrogation first, allowing us to do inspired work in every aspect of our organization. We interrogate everything; policies, curriculum, staff norms, funding, donors, partners, speakers, community engagement, marketing, and so on. This interrogation process has been transformative in so many ways. It has increased the capacity of our staff, allowed us to consider what our individual and collective misses may be, and allowed us to be open to constructive feedback. Our staff and our programs have benefited greatly from this process. 

What is the mindset of someone who chooses curiosity and invites a culture of individual and collective interrogation?

A leader who chooses curiosity and invites a culture of interrogation first acknowledges that power dynamics are at play. They understand how history has created a disparity in access to wealth and resources for various historically marginalized demographics. They recognize how they received a seat at the leadership table, including both; how their journey through hard work and life experience got them to this point and the factors that have worked in their favor. They understand that they are a voice for those whose voices are not heard. These leaders know what kind of power they operate in naturally (power over, power with, power to, and power within) and identify how they need to shift their default power method to one that is best for all.

These leaders will remove the notion of being and proving that they are good people and move towards contributing to the collective good. They will be accountable, authentic, and considerate. They will place integrity and the dignity of every human at the center. These are servant leaders. Those interested in a legacy that surpasses their time lived on Earth. A legacy that centers on solidarity, development, change, rigor, and leveraging privilege and access.  

This may all sound like a high standard, but more of these leaders are present than we know. The key is to surround yourself with people like this. Listen to their experiences. Imagine what is possible when we address the needs, address the barriers, and imagine what’s possible for perpetual issues in our communities. 

What does an interrogation process look like?

An interrogation process looks exactly like it sounds. Put your ego somewhere safe before entering into this process. The process takes questions and asks them at an individual level first before we engage our teammates in this work. Leadership is an inside job. You will hear me and many other experts in the field say this. Leadership starts within: with how we lead ourselves. Once we have consistent practices with interrogating ourselves, we can be in this process as a collective. Grounding and centering our authentic thoughts and feelings about a situation before engaging others is a very supportive practice. 

Here are introspective and reflective questions that will support this interrogation exploration. 

  1. Who do I want to lead? At this moment and in general?
  2. What kind of leader do I want to be in this moment and this situation? 
  3. What is the emotional charge here? 
  4. Who’s perspective and insight may I be missing in my problem-solving? 
  5. What are the facts/data?
  6. Has anyone made any requests? 
  7. Is it possible or in my sphere of influence to honor these requests? 
  8. Has there been any impact and/or harm? Is repair available? How can I center the individuals most impacted and/or harmed? 
  9. What policies are present around this? Do they need to be there? 
  10. What is the ideal outcome? 
  11. Is there an investment that will lead to greater company culture and psychological safety? 
  12. Who does this solution impact, and how do we have resources to mitigate the support needed for all impacted?
  13. Is this sustainable? How can I make it so?
  14. How do we need to communicate around this, respecting privacy and transparency?

After I have made this inquiry, what should I do next?

Now, after a grueling interview with yourself, you have answers! Honest answers can inform our next steps. Depending on the answers, we can keep moving forward with systems in place or make adjustments that support us in doing something different and better. Once you have answered questions like these, we can now begin a collaborative conversation, and ideally, everyone has run the situation through this process. Then, we can come to the collective table grounded, informed, and self-aware. 

I wrestle with nuance and the choice to be curious daily. An interrogation process can reveal things about me and thoughts I have that I don’t want to admit to anyone, even myself. My biases become present. And I then became responsible for unpacking them and dismantling the systems inside of me that created them. What has been emerging for me is unpacking professionalism, integrity, moral high ground, choosing growth without resentment, responsibility, and perfectionism; just a few examples of areas I have put through an interrogative process.

Ultimately, finding nuance and choosing curiosity is a lifestyle. In every situation and moment, we can ask how we want to show up, what kind of leader we want to be, and how we leverage our influence and power for the collective good. 

It is our choice. What will you choose?