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Great Leaders Ask Great Questions

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Early in my career, I held a misconception that prevented me from fully embracing leadership. I believed leaders needed to “know it all.” I always felt I had more to learn and that I wasn’t capable of leading others if I didn’t have all of the answers. My viewpoint drastically shifted during a conversation with a respected ministry leader. He told me that if I am in a position of influence, whether as a parent, a spouse, a friends circle, working in ministry, or even in the secular sphere, I am a leader whether I admit it or not!

Oof! Okay, so I’m a leader. Now what? How do I effectively lead others even if I don’t have every answer for them when they seek guidance? The answer may shock you. Leadership isn’t about having all the answers but asking the right questions. Yes, you read that right! In fact, “having all of the answers” tends to lead to an overdependent team that relies on you excessively. Not only does this disempower your team, but it also creates a bottleneck in the system which will inadvertently overwhelm you and frustrate them. The more your team relies on you for answers, the more they need you, and the more time you spend rescuing them. You’ve essentially created a codependent team that cannot function without you playing the hero. This isn’t leadership—it’s narcissism! Eventually, this will exhaust you and ultimately disconnect you from doing the work that truly matters, developing more leaders.

In The Coaching Habit Say Less, Ask More & Change The Way You Lead Forever, Michael

Bungay Stanier writes, “The essence of coaching lies in helping others by unlocking their potential.” This begins with leaders who develop a coaching habit that promotes a self-sufficient team. In other words, coach your team through obstacles by asking the right questions for self-discovery. Instead of having all of the answers, you need to know the right questions and make a habit of asking those questions regularly! Coaching also doesn’t have to be a long process. It can happen in just ten minutes. Every conversation you have can be an opportunity for you to apply your coaching skills!

This might sound simple but when you are in the habit of providing all of the answers and listening for the sake of answering, this can be a challenge. First, I’d recommend asking one question, then stop. Yes…STOP! Listen! Be comfortable with the awkward silence, and don’t be dismayed if you need to practice just this one habit often until it feels natural.

During Jesus’s ministry, He asked over 300 questions to his disciples and the crowds of followers and adversaries. His first words spoken in the Gospel of John was a question. One day, a group of men were following Jesus. Jesus turned to them and asked, “What do you want?” (John 1:38) Surely Jesus knew the hearts of these men and what they wanted, but the question was for their sake, not His. He asked...then waited for them to answer.

Jesus asked many questions for the sake of His followers. Yes, He spent a lot of time teaching and mentoring His disciples as well, but we see Him modeling the coaching style often with His questions. When we model a coaching style by asking open-ended questions, we enable self-discovery, dispel false feelings and beliefs and create a positive environment that is future-focused, just like Jesus did. When we coach others, we are not trying to rescue them with all of the right answers. Rather, we are creating a space that allows them to think through issues while promoting a healthy culture in relationships with others.

Another great starter question, or what Stainer would call the Kickstart Question is....

“What’s on your mind?”

The Kickstart Question allows someone to share what might be at their heart while you provide focus to the conversation. It will enable them to openly share what is waking them up in the middle of the night or what might be causing immediate anxiety or stress. It allows them to talk about what matters most at this moment. Every one-on-one conversation with your team should start with the Kickstart Question.

Once you've mastered the Kickstart Question and paused to allow for a response without interrupting that awkward silence, move on to the Awe Question. This is where the magic truly happens, according to Stainer. The Awe Question is .....

“And what else?”

Start with these two questions, and practice the habit of asking, stopping, and

listening. This is a great way to build your habit of coaching more and rescuing less. You can turn every engagement into a coaching opportunity. Emails and text messages work just as well as face-to-face conversations. Instead of immediately typing out a long drawn-out, multi-paged solution to an issue, you can reply with a few quick lines. “I’ve read your email, and it sounds like a lot is going on. What do you think the real challenge is here?”

As in any habit, it will take time to make this stick, so don’t give up. It’s easy for us to keep going back to our old routines. But if you regularly practice these tips, coaching will soon become second nature to you. You can even expand on the questions you ask! Stainer provides seven questions in his book. I suggest you keep them in your toolbox, and use them during every engagement.

During this coaching series, we’d love to hear how coaching your team has improved morale and culture. Next week we will have a guest writer speaking on the need for pastors and senior leadership to develop a relationship with a coach. (Check out Part 1 Here) We’d love to hear if you currently work with a coach or how coaching your team has improved from you coaching more and saying less! What are some of your favorite coaching questions or experiences? Share in the comments!

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1 Comment

Chris James
Chris James
Jun 13, 2022

One of my favorite phrases is: tell me more. It shows both value and interest. It really opens people up.

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