om·nis·cient (ŏm-nĭsh′ənt) adj. Having total knowledge; knowing everything: an omniscient deity; one having total knowledge.
"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly and I did. I said I didn't know"...Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
For some strange reason, managers are expected to be omniscient, authorities on all subjects. If someone comes a-calling with a question, any manager in their right mind will, of course, give them what they came a-calling for...an answer! After all, if team members had the answer, we wouldn't need managers, right? One of the reasons why we were hired or promoted as managers is because of our ability to answer people's questions when they come a-calling. In fact, subconsciously it is better to guess and maybe give the wrong answer than to gulp! Admit we don't know.
Well, I'm here to tell you that I lived that life, and believe me it is absolutely no fun. I learned that the more answers I gave, the more questions would come a-calling. I would have to call the office to answer questions when I was on vacation. I remember one time flying home from a family vacation because a problem arose that only the omniscient one could figure out. I also figured out after awhile that when people did come to me exasperated with questions, they already knew the answer. They must have, because whatever answer I gave they seemed to agree with and went ahead and used.
There is a huge problem with this arrangement. If you simply give out answers like Halloween candy, you miss out on the opportunity to learn what the people you are supposed to be coaching and developing, know and don't know about their processes. Also, in the words of Mark Twain, sometimes the best answer is "I don't know, let's go (to GEMBA) and find out!"
Humble inquiry is the art of developing people's creativity and capability by never answering a question with an answer. Instead, resolve to answer all questions with open ended questions (not questions that can be answered with yes or no, they just re-enforce your answer). On a scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (hard), humble inquiry is a 12. It takes discipline and practice. But, the first step toward taking full advantage of every single brain cell in your organization is getting your ego out of the way!