Home / Blog / Transformation through inquiry – a personal reflection

Transformation through inquiry – a personal reflection

After taking part in the Transformation through inquiry webinar we hosted a while back with Bill Torbert, an Amara Associate Annette Hennessy wrote this beautiful reaction piece reflecting her own transformation journey in relation to Bill’s experiences and transformative moments. As you read on, we invite you to be open for inquiries about your own life as well: what have been transformative moments for you?

How do you make meaning of the minutes, of the days, of your life? That’s the question that Bill Torbert personally opens up to examination in his latest book, Numbskull in the Theatre of Inquiry: Transforming Self, Friends, Organizations, and Social Science, and it made me think. How would I make sense, how am I making sense of my life? I’m suddenly reminded of the quote ‘a life unexamined is a life not worth living’ (Socrates)  

I was part of a webinar with Bill Torbert and Amara Collaboration talking about his latest book. It’s always energising to listen to Bill who appears at ease with discomfort, contradictions, paradoxes and personal disclosure. It made me think how all roads lead to now, and how much we become who we are, through pain, embarrassment, humiliation, and excruciating moments of shame. This is not an advocacy for any of these things, but is an acceptance that shit happens, and is a realisation that they have shaped me, and that they are rich sources of power, meaning and perspective.  

As the saying goes ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. When I moved into roles which entailed senior leadership in organisations it meant greater visibility, greater scrutiny, and in my view greater accountability for my actions. As I struggled to navigate the challenges, exposing my own vulnerabilities there were numerous times when I felt I lacked the competence and capacity I needed.  None more so, than when the Board Chair received a letter from a manager in the organisation expressing a lack of confidence in my leadership. How had I not known? How many others felt like this? How might the Board Chair and Board react? What might be the consequences for the organisation and more importantly the service we delivered. If there had been a way to run away with dignity I would have done so!  

I can’t be sure this kickstarted the process of transformation, or action inquiry for me, those concepts being unknown to me at the time, but it was a seminal moment of learning and perspective. Counter-intuitively I ran towards it, seeking out the author’s viewpoint, trying to understand how this had happened, and how might I do things differently. That person became a collaborator in my development, and on reflection it helped me to move out of my achiever logic towards a more redefining phase.  

A couple of years ago we made a big family trip to India to see my nephew marry his Indian fiancée. We came together from all around the world, to celebrate, and to experience such a different way of life, but mostly as an opportunity to be together, in one place again. The three-day Hindu ceremony was in Dharamsala, a region near the Himalayas.  My brother, a fit and active man who had emigrated to New Zealand, had flown in the day before us. On the day after we all arrived, he collapsed and died in the streets of Mcleod Gange. In the space of four days, we had flown to India, celebrated our arrival, buried my brother and gone ahead with a curtailed wedding ceremony. The shock waves and mixture of emotions remain to be made sense of yet. It has left me searching for a higher meaning and perspective on my life. What am I in service of? What does it mean to be human right now?  What part might I play in the climate emergency that’s unravelling across the globe?  

The invitation from Bill and the work of action inquiry is to practice making sense and meaning, out of live time reflection and intervention. What helps me to do this is the community of others, in work I had the support of a coach and an action learning set. Now I’m part of a number of communities of inquiry, bringing new possibilities, new perspectives, and above all learning to be alive to all of life’s challenges and joys. Tell me what makes you feel alive in the moment, in your day, in your life?  


In out-of-the-way places of the heart,  

Where your thoughts never think to wander,  

This beginning has been quietly forming,  

Waiting until you were ready to emerge. 

For a long time it has watched your desire,  

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,  

Noticing how you willed yourself on, 

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown. 

It watched you play with the seduction of safety  

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,  

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,  

Wondered would you always live like this. 

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,  

And out you stepped onto new ground, 

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,  

A path of plenitude opening before you. 

Though your destination is not yet clear  

You can trust the promise of this opening;  

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning  

That is at one with your life’s desire. 

Awaken your spirit to adventure; 

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;  

Soon you will home in a new rhythm, 

For your soul senses the world that awaits you. 

Are you aiming
to transform yourself
or your organisation?
We walk beside you through your challenges and best intentions, offering structures and methods to shift the leadership and culture to be smarter with the challenges and opportunities you face. We offer helpful learning processes for teams and individuals to enable a shift to a new level of leading, thinking and acting.
Get in touch