Asking rather than telling, questions rather than answers, has become the key to leadership excellence and success in the twenty first century. Peter Drucker, considered the leadership guru of the twentieth century and still going strong, notes that the leader of the past may have been a person who knew how to tell, but certainly the leader of the future will be a person wo knows how to ask [p. 23-4, Leading with Questions, by Michael Marquardt].
A principle central to helping leaders grow and change whether it be through training, mentoring, leading or coaching is that "People understand the things presented to them but they own the things they discover." It sounds simple but is much harder to apply than it may appear.
A skill that helps facilitate the discovery process is asking powerful questions. A powerful question doesn't just find out facts and information but goes deeper to cause deeper reflection, thinking and examination which can lead to learning, adjustment and a commitment to action.
If you want to bring out the best in others, enlarge your capacity to ask questions that help take people from where they are to where God wants them to be by doing something different.
Questions come in different shapes and sizes. Here are just a few of the many types of questions you might want to consider having in your coaching toolbox. Included are a few samples to illustrate what those questions might look like.
Situation questions engage the memory of the person being coached. They don't provoke insight but help get the coaching dialogue started.
For example: What have been some of your highs and lows over the past 10 years? What's going well for you? Where do you find yourself stuck? Who is on your leadership team?
When using situation questions, consider keeping them to a minumum because if you ask too many in a row, you come across as an investigative reporter instead of a coach.
Motivation questions are helpful to explore the underlying motivation, decision making process, and priorities of those you are coaching. They can follow a situation question to get the story behind the story and gain understanding of the thinking that led to a certain action or bit of information. A benefit for you the coach is that they help you get a glimpse into how those you are coaching think.
For example: What led you to make that decision? What makes that important to you? Why is that priority or goal important to you? What from your perspective what the reason the board made that decision?
Ideal Outcome Questions
Ideal outcome questions help people explore dreams, goals and their vision for the future. The real value is not just in thinking about the future but also to help those you are coaching raise their expectations and start to imagine God's preferred future for them. These are especially helpful for people who see only the barriers or who are mired down in difficult circumstances they can't seem to get out of.
For example: What are your goals or dreams for the future? What do you imagine as the best possible outcome to this situation? How would you describe the best possible circumstances? Where would you like to be in five years from now? Two years? Six months?
If a person or congregation is really stuck and unable to imagine a promising future, you could try the "straw man" question: What if you could get total support from the leadership or congregation (and imagine that you had it), what would need to happen to go from where you are today to that new place of fruitful ministry that you envision?
Implication questions ask people to explore the potential consequences to certain actions or events. They are especially useful when you need to challenge those you are coaching. They cause people to question their assumptions and gives them an opportunity to envision a bright or dark future (depending on which pathway is more helpful). They can be either positive or negative.
For example: If you don't make this change, what's likely to happen? How bad could it get? Where is this path you are on leading to? (negative). If you implement these changes what could be the result 12 months from now? How would lives be impacted in your community if you turn this situation around? (positive).
Sensory questions tap into the senses and help people explore their feelings. The value of these type of questions is that they take the conversation down into the experience which is critical for finding motivation for change. Appealing to the senses also helps take the conversation from the head to the heart and provides an opportunity to re-create an important moment and remember facts or feelings that might be important to listen to.
For example: How do you see this situation right now? How does the scenerio you just described sound to you? What did it feel like to live through that chapter of your congregation's life and ministry?
Columbo Questions and Statements
This line of questioning comes from the unassuming style of Lt. Columbo who seemed awkward to many but in reality was as sly as a fox in his questioning. Columbo questions work because they include gaining clarification of what's been said as well as serve as a way to be skeptical without appearing so.
For example: Help me understand that (this is better than a "Why" question which can create defensiveness) or I don't think I understand. How do you think that works? Tell me more about that situation (or problem).
What Else Questions
One final type of question to have in your toolbox is the simple question "What Else?". Sometimes as coaches we settle for the first response that people give us when if we simply were to ask "What else?" we'd gain far greater understanding and help take those we are coaching much farther into their discover and exploration.
So how about you? Will you take up the challenge to both recognize where and when you ask questions effectively as well as identify one area where you see an opportunity for growth? Be among those leaders in the world who are making the shift from telling to asking and as a result, seeing lives changed after the pattern of Jesus, the Master at asking!
[Some of these ideas came from chapter 8 in Adaptive Coaching by Terry R. Bacon and Karen I. Spear]
1. Reflect on the week past and identify a conversation you had which demonstrated your ability to ask powerful questions of others. What did you do that made the interaction powerful? What did you not do that made your questioning more effective?
2. Reflect on the week past and identify a time when you did most of the talking (or telling) and didn't spend enough time asking questions. What was the effect on the person you were "talking" with? What was the impact on you? What can you learn from that?
3. Identify in the week ahead three conversations where you will intentionally strengthen your questioning ability. Pick one type of questioning technique from the list above and practice it during those conversations. Afterwards reflect on what you did well and on your opportunity to do it differently next time.