Influence

 the shape of leadership

The Power of Asking Good Questions

Leading well is not about having all the answers

Chris Colvin on September 20, 2019

People think pastors and ministers have all the answers. They come to us with some of their most difficult questions. From the spiritual to the mundane, inquiries from your church can fill your days.

Because of that, it’s easy for us to think we have all the answers. Instead of asking our own questions, we tend to lead with our own knowledge. That may be a bad idea.

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, thinks we should ask more questions and provide fewer answers. She writes, “A bad leader will tell people what to do. A great leader asks the questions that focus the intelligence of their team on the right problems.”

The next time you lead a meeting, find a way to ask questions before providing answers. Ask, don’t tell. You might gain new, undiscovered information. You will empower others who have a different perspective than your own. And you’ll also display real care for your team, letting them know you want the best for them.

As a minister, I know this can be pretty difficult. When I meet with a client, the focus is almost exclusively on answering their questions. If I’m not careful, I may forget to ask my own. But if I want to be a good leader, a good writer, a good minister, I first need to be a good listener and ask good questions.

What Are You Asking?

As you think about your role in ministry, what questions are you asking? I’m sure you’ve thought long and hard about the answers you’ll need to give. If you’re a preacher, you spend hours each week preparing a message that will answer some of life’s most challenging questions. If you perform counseling of any kind, you pray in advance that you’ll have good answers for your members. If you’re a senior leader, you want the best answers to guide your staff.

But now turn it around. What are the best questions you can ask? When you sit with your church member or lead that staff meeting, take a moment to formulate some questions, and then listen to the response. You may find that you are better served that way. I know I have been.

There are key questions I like to ask as a writer and researcher. In my ministry capacity, I have the unique privilege of serving pastors as they prepare each week to minister to their own churches. It’s often the questions I ask that make the difference for me. Let me share some of them with you, and you might see how they work as great questions for your own ministry.

Listen and respond sympathetically without being defensive.

“What do you want to do?” I try to always start with this question. If I’m helping a preacher, I want to know first what they hope to accomplish. I’ve cost myself extra hours of work by assuming I knew before clarifying it.

As a leader, ask those you lead what they want to do. What are their own goals? And how can you help them reach these? If you’re talking with a church member, try to start with what they want from you. That way, you can navigate a clear path forward.

There’s another way this question can be powerful. If you’re leading a specific initiative, event or service, ask those involved what they want to do. You already have your own vision and agenda but there’s no harm in crowdsourcing. You might find a better way to accomplish the mission.

“What have you done already?” Think about the simplicity of this question and how many directions the answer can take. As a consultant, I will ask this question to get up to speed with a client and their project. But I can also employ this as a way to do personal research. In other words, what have you experienced personally that can add to this sermon, help guide this event or define the objectives more clearly?

As a leader, asking your people this question can uncover new information. Your staff or volunteers will have different experiences than you. By listening, you learn. In a sermon, you might have one idea of how to apply a text or main idea, but asking this question may lead you a different way. When preparing for an event, you may find a new creative or relevant path to take.

“Should we do this?” This is one question you should ask early and often. It helps to zero in the agenda of any meeting or endeavor. Why are we doing what we do? Should we keep doing it? Do we need to do something different?

If you, as a leader, have carefully communicated the overall vision and mission of your church and ministry, your people are the best sounding board for whether to continue a particular effort.

“What do you need from me?” One final question I always try to ask in every meeting is this one. What are your expectations of me? When do you need me to do it? And how can I be of even more help?

In leadership, however, this has another effect. When asked sincerely, it shows your people that you care deeply about their personal growth. How can I serve you better? What can I provide you to do your job more effectively? Where can I fill in any gaps that I haven’t already addressed?

Listen and respond sympathetically without being defensive. There will be time for coaching later, but get to the heart of their needs first.

Give this a try in your next meeting, or even over the next month. Attempt to ask more questions than you answer. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Soon you’ll discover for yourself the power of asking good questions.

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