“Good leaders will focus their energies not on being interesting but on being interested” was the paradigm shifting advice that I received from a mentor as a nascent leader. In that conversation a course was set in the beginnings of my leadership journey on the value of discovering the right questions rather than having the right answers. I sensed a Spirit-filled invitation to exchange my natural instincts of quickly moving to answers or solutions in order to embrace the practice and potential of asking questions – a skill that I have continually needed to sharpen in every stage and situation in my leadership journey.

One of the first things that we learn as children is to ask questions. This plays out in real time in my house with the constant stream of questions from my two little daughters that can at times seem endless and exhausting. Berger states that kids ask an average of 40,000 questions between the ages of 2-5. Noting that 4 year olds ask as many as 200 to 300 questions a day. My observation is that kids ask questions 1 naturally as an essential part of learning but it would seem that as we get older we tend to grow out of the habit. I’m trying to take Nieuwhof’s advice, “Curiosity is your best friend as a leader. So…act more like a 6- year-old than a 36-year-old.”2

As a disciple of Jesus, there is no one I try to pattern my life after more than Him. Jesus’ communication style focused on two things: He told great stories and asked great questions…
lots of questions, at least 307. It is also noteworthy that of the 183 questions that He is asked Jesus only 3 answers3…that’s right, just 3! And on at least one occasion he does not know the answer to a question addressed to him (Mark 13:4a & 32). It would seem that even Jesus was more focussed on asking right questions rather than having right answers. Rohr emphasises this stating, “we have paid so little attention to Jesus’ questions and emphasised instead his seeming answers. We have made of Jesus a systematic theologian, who walked around teaching dogmas, instead of a peripatetic and engaging transformer of the soul.” Jesus uses questions as a tool to empower people, initiate conversation, invite deeper thought, 4 grant dignity, and lead people to a fuller knowledge of God, the world, others, and self. In doing so, Jesus opens up the possibility of a new reality for those with eyes to see and He invites us leaders out of the false security and ego-feeder of having answers, to the transforming power and potential of asking better questions.

So if questions were an essential tool used by Jesus to lead people, how might we harness the power and potential of asking questions in our leadership?
As I walk this out in my own leadership journey I have recognised two things –

  1. Right questions provide a path towards mature discipleship that giving right answers never could.
  2. The questions that I’m interested in asking aren’t ones that simply seek to satisfy my curiosity but that:
    • Open people up to deeper reflections about God, self and life
    • Move people from their head to their heart – the goal is heart to heart conversation not head to head conversation
    • Help increase discernment and attention to God’s presence and movement in their life Invites expansion and exploration rather than confines
    • Clears clutter and brings clarity
    • Assists people in articulating their dreams, holy longings and yearning for God

One of my greatest longings is to be someone who asks better questions.

Reflect on your natural leadership leaning – to give right answers or ask right questions? Why? Take the opportunity to read through one of the gospels, paying particular attention to Jesus’ questions. What do they reveal about Jesus? What might they be asking of you today? How might you harness the power and potential of asking questions in your leadership?
Choose an aspect of your leadership where you feel stuck right now – can you formulate a question that would open up possibility and potential in this area?
How does the fact that Jesus asked so many questions change your view of your approach to situations and people where you are leading right now?

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1 Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question, Bloomsbury, 2016
2 Carey Nieuwhof, 7 Keys to Asking Better Questions (What I’ve Learned From My Leadership Podcast)
3 Owen O’Sullivan, The Questions of Jesus, Columbia Press, 2003
4 Richard Rohr, In the Foreword of John Dear, The Questions of Jesus, Doubleday, 2004