I’m really excited to host Tim Stevens on my blog today! His insight on asking questions is one of the most overlooked skills of a leader. Enjoy!
Asking questions may be one of the least talked about secret weapons of a great leader. In fact, I believe it may be one of the most undeveloped skills in leadership. Many businesses and nearly all churches are filled with leaders who are professional communicators. That is, they are paid to talk. They spend a good portion of their time figuring out what they are going to say and how they are going to say it, and then delivering the message.
They don’t get hired to ask people questions. They get hired to tell people what they think or believe about a certain topic or product. Pastors are the worst offenders—they are so used to everyone wanting to hear what they have to say that they have a difficult time listening to (or caring about) what others have to say.
Yet the Bible we carry around and teach from is very clear:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19)
“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful
and foolish.” (Prov. 18:13 NLT)
As author and management consultant Peter Drucker put it, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.”
Back in the day, it was possible for one person to hold most of the knowledge and be able to guide an organization to success through working the system. Not anymore. Today’s world is moving too fast, information is changing too rapidly, and no one person (or group of people) has an edge on what is needed for success.
Additionally, a person who doesn’t ask questions comes off as proud and untouchable. There is an air of superiority that emanates from the know-it-all. He or she may not know it, but others don’t enjoy being around someone who has all the answers.
A person who asks questions
- assumes there is something he or she can learn;
- exudes humility;
- infuses confidence in people around him or her;
- helps introverts or nonverbal leaders communicate;
- is constantly learning.
A person who doesn’t ask questions
- assumes he or she already knows all the facts;
- exudes a cocky attitude;
- risks looking like a fool;
- shuts down people who don’t have as forceful of a personality;
- impresses him or herself more than others;
- forfeits prime learning opportunities.
When we were trying to discover the five-year vision for Granger, we took the unprecedented step of going to every single person in the church and asking him or her to help us. We didn’t want to come off the mountaintop like Moses with a word from God and say, “Here is the five-year vision. Read it and weep!” Rather, we wanted to give every single person in the church an opportunity to participate. So we asked questions like these:
- If this church could be everything you wanted in five years for your family, what would that look like?
- If this church was exactly the type of church to help you reach your friends who don’t currently attend, what would it look like?
- If this church was transforming our entire community and making our city a better place to live, what would we be doing differently?
And it was an amazing discovery process. There were key parts of the five-year vision that we constructed by asking questions. And the questions weren’t a disguised way to find people who would agree with what we were already planning. Rather, the vision came from the answers we got from asking the right questions.
Authenticity is key. You can ask questions in order to manipulate people to do what you want and make them think it was their idea. But that’s not authentic, question-based leadership. That might get you what you want. But you risk losing credibility in the process. Gary Cohen said it this way:
“The right questions rely on the leader’s ability to communicate authentic interest in learning the answer. They come from a place of not knowing. The right questions are open-ended, carry the possibility of true discovery, and demonstrate a willingness to share and bestow credit.
Tim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.
Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.
Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.