Practicing curiosity is simple, but it takes practice. All you have to do is spend more time asking questions than you do offering your opinion or perspective.
Every leader should be humble, teachable, curious, and intentional because if you lead from that posture, it creates an environment that encourages transformation in the lives of those you lead.
Asking great questions is one of the most useful skills you can add to your leadership toolbox. It's both strategically smart and relationally powerful.
Using launching, clarifying, and following-up questions requires intentionality and a little practice.
The ability to ask good questions is key for any leader. Unfortunately, it doesn't come naturally for most of us. It's a skill we have to develop over time.
The New Testament records 183 questions that people asked Jesus. He gave a direct answer to three of those questions, but he asked 307 clarifying or redirecting questions in response. Our takeaway: One well-placed question is better than ten good answers. Asking great questions is a skill every leader should work on developing over time.
Why ask questions? Great questions meet people where they are in their faith journeys. Instead of just providing people with easy (and too often trite) answers, great questions help them to own their faith. Questions encourage people to think for themselves. That self-directed shift in thinking has a higher probability of influencing future behavior. In other words, it has a higher probability of helping people grow.
What makes a great question? Curiosity is the secret ingredient of great question-asking. A leader should be genuinely curious about what’s going on in the lives of his or her group members and what those group members have to say.
Great questions aren't judging. They don’t presume an answer. They’re asked in a spirit of learning. They build empathy.
What makes a great question asker? The most effective leaders are full of conversations, not answers. They're humble, satisfied with delayed credit (or no credit at all), generous, concerned with others, curious, and empathetic. Great leaders ask great questions and continually strive to be better at asking great questions.
I don't know about you, but I'm better at asking questions than I used to be but not as good as I want to be. Improving is hard work, but it's worth the effort.
When something is wrong, is your first instinct to say, "Well, at least . . ."? Check out this short video featuring author and research professor Brené Brown.
A leader's goal is to create a helpful, engaging, and relevant environment where people have the opportunity to experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth. After that, a leader let's God do what only he can do: change lives. But that first step of creating an environment is important. That's why the success of a group really does hinge on the quality of its leader. Here are three traits that really distinguish great group leaders:
1. Humility Humility comes from a strong, growing relationship with Jesus. Humble leaders acknowledge that we're all sinners, completely helpless without the love of God. Because they've been so dramatically transformed by this love, these kinds of leaders make every effort to move out of God's way so that he can connect with seekers in his timing.
- Humble leaders approach conversations as fellow journeyers, not as one who are handing off truth.
- Humble leaders "sit" on the same side of the table as their group members. They acknowledge they're also in need of a Savior.
2. Teachability Teachability isn't just about responding to direction and correction. It's an attitude. It's a spirit that says, "I will constantly learn about myself, others, and culture so God can use me in new and different ways."
- Teachable leaders always invite feedback because they know their job isn't to lead perfectly. Their job is to strive to respond effectively to the people God places in their groups.
- Teachable leaders actively pursue what it means to create open and conversational environments for people to explore topics and experience community.
3. Curiosity Curiosity is about engagement. Curious leaders are proactive in reaching out to group members in order to better understand where they are personally, emotionally, and spiritually, and encourage them to take meaningful steps towards their heavenly Father.
- Curious leaders are hungry to know more about their group members. They go out of their way to understand group members' perspective—not so they can change minds, but so they can connect and lead people toward deeper relationships with Jesus.
- Curious leaders don't teach. They ask questions.
These are simple ideas, but pursuing them often requires a shift in mindset. Most leadership books and blogs don't emphasize humility, teachability, and curiosity as key ingredients of great leadership. But they really will improve the quality of your group experience like nothing else. That's because they have the power to break down the barriers of shame and guilt that exist between people. They express a transparency and vulnerability that gives group members permission to be more transparent and vulnerable. And that's huge when you're trying to help others pursue spiritual growth.
Asking great questions is as much an art as it is a skill. But developing that question-asking muscle is essential for great leadership. Asking great questions is the most effective thing a leader can do to create conversational environments where people can experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth. Jesus did this better than anyone in history. In the Gospels, he's asked a ton of questions — everything from "Are you the Son of God?" to "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" He rarely responds with an answer. Instead, he tends to ask questions that lead people to consider the truth, think about their own experiences, and reflect. Jesus understood that asking great questions helps people to process what they're thinking and feeling and to really own the answers they discover. Providing quick, simple answers doesn't usually do that.
When it comes to asking great questions, Jesus sets the bar high. You probably won't be as quick or insightful as he was (I'm not, that's for sure). But it's still a great idea to work on your question-asking skills, and to look to Christ for inspiration. You won't change overnight, but in time you'll find that your ability to ask better questions will create a better environment for your group members to grow.
Here are five simple, self-explanatory tips for asking great questions in group:
- Ask open-ended questions, not those that can be answered with a yes or no.
- Ask questions that evoke feelings, make people think, and lead to insights.
- Ask questions that have more than one right answer.
- Ask questions that encourage group members to share personal examples.
- Ask questions that stimulate group members to apply what they're learning.
Responding to questions by asking good follow-up questions engages everyone in the group. As you guide the conversation, make sure responses connect your questions to the topic you're discussing, pave the way for you and your group members to talk about your personal struggles, and encourage self-discovery by allowing people to arrive at their own conclusions with the help of the group discussion.
Are you comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know?”
I’m not … but I’m learning to familiarize myself quickly. Luckily, leading a growing organization provides many opportunities to practice!
I used to avoid this statement like I avoided waking up for my 8am Art History class in college (I never went!). I’m becoming more comfortable today, though. It’s not that I know less today than a few years ago. At some point my age may cause that to be true. Rather, I’m just becoming more comfortable accepting and acknowledging what “I don’t know.”
Here is the problem. When I was a younger leader, I assumed admitting my lack of insight would undermine my leadership influence. I wanted to be seen as a thought leader. I wanted the promotion. I wanted the next opportunity. And I believed the path to the leadership promise land was paved by answers, expertise, and confidence.
Unfortunately, pretending to know all the answers led me to over-promise and under-deliver. In case you don’t know, that’s NOT the best method to promotions and opportunities.
Gavin goes on to explore five positive things saying "I don't know" actually communicates to the people we lead. It's well worth hopping over to his site to check it out.
You have permission to ask the second question. What do I mean by that? What is the second question? It’s the follow-up. “Hi, how are you?”
“Great. How are you?”
Without the second question, the conversation is over. But as the group's leader, you're invited to continue the conversation by asking another question. Be the kind of leader who is interested in others beyond the surface-level pleasantries. More times than not, when you ask a second question, people start getting real.
When you ask someone how he or she is doing and you a get-one word responses like, “fine,” “good,” or “okay,” show your group member you care and are genuinely interested in knowing what’s going on in his or her life by asking specific questions. You can even ask a group member what "fine," "good," or "okay" looks like.
People generally want to talk in more detail about how they’re doing, but they need to know the person on the other end of the conversation is safe. They need a little encouragement. They need to feel confident that, if they get more personal, what they say will be well received. You're in a special position. You're the group's leader. You have an opportunity to lead your members in healthy, safe communication by asking the second question.
I've written before about how your responsibilities as a leader are to think about the spiritual growth of every member of the group and make sure the group environment supports that growth. One of the best ways you can help yourself carry out those responsibilities is to perform regular group check-ups.
Every six months or so, take a timeout to assess how your group members are doing. Review the Group Agreement. Does the environment reflect what you all agreed to at the outset of the group? If not, you may need to bring group meetings into alignment with the agreement or adjust the agreement based on the rhythms you've established. Either way, it's a great opportunity to talk about what is and isn't working.
Is the group achieving its purpose? Are you making steady, incremental progress toward your goals of healthy relationships and spiritual growth? If so, take some time to recognize and celebrate that. If not, knowing you're off target is the only way you can get back on target.
Another great tool to use is the Group Member Assessment. Have your group members fill out this brief survey before you meet. It helps them to assess how they're growing in the Three Vital Relationships. Not only does the assessment help group members understand where they need to grow, it helps them understand how they've already grown. It's a great tool for mapping out the future, but also for celebrating the life change that has already occurred.
The assessment will give you a sense of how you can better lead your group members toward growth. Do you need to lean into a study about how to develop a deeper relationship with God? Do you need to focus on cultivating relationships within the group? Or maybe you need to cast some vision around serving others, and then get out into your community to do so on a regular basis.
The point is, you won't know exactly what your group needs if you're not intentional about finding out.
One more thing: Doing a group check-up may put you on the hot seat a little bit. It may reveal some areas where you can lead better. Don't take it personally. All leaders have opportunity for growth. The best leaders seek out those opportunities; they don't hide from them.
What have you done in the past to monitor the health of your groups?