In Lean Transformation or any organizational transformation, developing the capacity for personal wisdom and humility happens most reliably when we engage in a specific practice: contemplation. The popularly used words such as “reflecting” and “pondering” are inadequate to describe the complex set of individual internal activities which drive our external action.

The practice of contemplation means to consciously reflect about the past and make sense of the current, thereby enhancing the awareness of possible improvements and innovations. Sense-making is the conscious act of understanding our internal responses and outward behaviors within the context of our environment. The environment includes the ongoing and ever-changing activities and relationships with individuals and groups. It involves understanding the patterns within the ever changing environmental context.

Transforming our organization requires personal transformation. It is not sufficient to ask others to change. It requires a deeper exploration and understanding of how we personally lead and are perceived by others. Successful contemplative practice requires us to be open and willing to recognize our own fallibility, which is often at odds with the all-knowing persona that brought us our career success. Being open to acknowledging and accepting our weaknesses with the intent for personal change requires a measure of vulnerability. This type of vulnerability is a sign of courage, not weakness. Courage is demonstrating a willingness to truly listen to other points of view, to our inner voice and acting on our personal purpose and organizational vision.

Contemplation can occur in quiet solitude or in the midst of others. It is quieting the inner chatter that distracts us from truly listening to our inner voice and the voices of those around us.

“Humble inquiry is the willingness to learn by asking questions of yourself and of others.” Edgar Schein



The linchpin to contemplative practice is the willingness and openness to ask ourselves the hard questions.

The following questions are offered to provoke or reinforce your contemplative practice. Think about a recent leadership situation that did not achieve the desired results.

  • What is it you truly wanted in this situation?
  • What story are you telling about this situation?
  • What was your role in this story? Name your behaviors.
  • What new insights do you have?
  • What have you learned and how can you lead differently the next time?

Read more from Bill about the practice of humble inquiry: Lessons in Humble Inquiry for Healthcare Leaders.

Today’s blog was written by Bill Kirkwood, Senior Consulting Director at HPP.

Bill brings more than 30 years of leadership experience in the healthcare industry. Prior to joining Vizient, Bill worked in both system and individual hospital settings in the Midwest and Northeast United States, leading transformational change management initiatives. This experience includes leading service line re-design initiatives [e.g. perinatal services, case management and care model design] as well as serving in an executive capacity in quality, operations and human resources. Bill’s areas of expertise and professional skills include facilitating change management strategies. He has worked with leadership teams in developing and implementing Lean Management Systems and Organizational Design efforts. He serves as Adjunct Faculty in the University of Cincinnati’s Masters in Health Administration in addition to being a certified Executive Coach.  He has presented at several national conferences including Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the Organizational Development Network and American Society for Quality as well as being inducted into the Union Institute and University’s Circle of Scholars for his dissertation “The Current State of the Patient Care Nurse’s Vocational Calling”. Bill holds a Master’s degree in Health Administration from Xavier University and a Doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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