Ask More “How Do You...” Questions In Your Church

Posted by Aaron Buer on March 14, 2019

Have you ever watched a leader you really respect and thought to yourself,

“How are they doing that?”

Sometimes leadership can seem like this super-secret set of knowledge and practices that no one really teaches, but the secret society insiders somehow know about, while you and I are on the outside, stumbling along, trying to figure it out.

Am I alone here? Don’t leave me hanging!

What I’ve learned is that everyone is stumbling along in their own way. I recently had a fascinating conversation with one of the best leaders I know who blurted out,

“I don’t know what I’m doing either!”

I believe the truth is that great leaders are incredibly humble, constant learners and open to direction.

They have mentors and aren’t full of themselves.

Here’s the real key: if you want to be a great leader, find someone who possesses these qualities and learn everything you can from them.

I happen to have a few of these people in my life.

The honest truth is that most of what I share in these blog posts come from conversations with them.

Here’s a tip that will also lead to the content of this particular post. If you want to grow as a leader, find leaders who you respect and ask them lots of “How do you...?” questions.

    How do you structure your time?
    How do you rest?
    How do you say no?
    How do you prepare for meetings?
    How do you conduct one-on-one meetings?
    How do you study?

You might be thinking, “Cool idea. But, if I ask these questions, then they will know that I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Great leaders are humble.

Great leaders are ok with admitting their fallibility.

Great leaders are willing to learn from anyone and anywhere.

So, with this in mind, in a recent “how do you...?” conversation, one of the leaders I most respect revealed his top four practices as a leader in this season.

In my opinion, they are gold.

It was one of those moments where I was typing notes as fast as I possibly could, hoping time would slow down so I could catch everything.

Here they are...

Flip the Script

When you are the leader, people look to you for the answers.

When important questions are asked in a meeting, all eyes tend to look your way.

It’s easy to start believing that you have all the answers.

Sometimes, you do.

However, believing that you have all the answers leads to two major problems.

You do not have all the answers.

Can we just be real about this?!?

You don’t know everything about everything, at least I don’t.

When people believe you have all the answers, they stop thinking creatively and critically.

You lose their best contribution.

A better practice is to enter every conversation and every meeting with an understanding that you very likely do not have the best or right idea.

You probably don’t have all the information.

Your job as a leader is not to impart the right answer but to uncover the right answer through the people who are closest to the issue.

So, flip the script.

Don’t assume you already know.

Assume you don’t.

Ask Questions

You might be thinking, “Great idea…how exactly do you do that?”

I think it happens best through asking the right questions.

I find that asking questions unlocks the potential in the people you lead.

For example, let’s say you’re in a one-on-one meeting with a staff member who reports to you or a volunteer under your care.

When they bring up an issue they are dealing with, our first instinct is to try to help by telling them what they should do to fix the problem.

However, as well meaning as this is, it actually shortchanges their growth and development.

Because what they are learning is actually dependency on you.

And, what they aren’t learning is critical and strategic thinking.

So, instead of telling a person under your care, “Here’s what I think you should do,” ask them, “What’s your plan for that?”

This question is gold.

You’re not abandoning them, but you are forcing them to talk through how they are thinking about the problem.

Then, through conversation you can either confirm that their thinking is correct, which builds their confidence, you can redirect them toward a better approach, which will build their skills, or you may discover that they have a better approach than you would have ever thought of, in which case…now you’re really getting somewhere.

The point is, asking questions builds ownership, takes the pressure off you as a leader to have all the answers and it develops skills and character.

Encourage the Positive

One of the most challenging aspects to leadership can be giving feedback, especially negative feedback.

I’m not sure anyone truly enjoys this.

However, some leaders are clearly better at it than others.

And, it’s definitely true that things can get sideways with the people under our care when we deliver negative feedback in unhelpful and unhealthy ways.

For me, this is one of the most intimidating aspects of my job, mostly because I am fearful of hurting the relationship.

Here’s what I’ve learned from leadership mentors in the area of feedback:

“Do more of that”

Is much more helpful than

“Don’t do that”

Here’s an example of this:
My boss has been trying to develop my pastoral voice on stage. The specific ask has been to use pausing more effectively when I give announcements.

He could have said,

“Don’t give the announcements without pauses.”

What he did say was,

“You’re so good at using pauses when you preach and when you pray during the worship close. Bring that skill to the announcements as well.”

This minor change in feedback delivery—to encourage the positive, is huge.

In the first delivery, I hear, “You kind of suck at announcements.”

In the second, I hear, “You have a skill here, just bring it to every environment.”

It’s a minor change with huge impact.

The Last 10% in the Last 10%

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Say the last 10%.”

This is a good leadership axiom that basically means, when you need to give constructive criticism or negative feedback, you actually need to say it.

Don’t sugar coat it and don’t dance around the issue.

Say it. Give the last 10%.

A leadership mentor of mine has added another layer to this that I have found to be very helpful.

Often, when entering into a hard conversation, we lead with the feedback.

My mentor would say, “Try saving the last 10% until the last 10% of the meeting.”

Why? Because through the conversation, you will gain more perspective.

Usually, if there is an issue that needs to be talked about, the person under your care is already aware of this issue.

It has probably been on their mind.

In fact, given the chance, the person will likely bring it up in their own way before you do.

This why I begin my one-on-one meetings with, “What’s going on in your world?” or “Tell me about what’s happening?” or “What are your priorities right now?”

Get them talking and they’ll likely bring up the issue or at least get close enough to it that you can transition to the issue more naturally.

The value of this approach is perspective you gain about the person and the issue through giving them space to talk.

There is a very good chance that you will learn something that will impact how you talk about the issue at hand or how you deliver the negative feedback.

When you have a last 10% to deliver, wait until the last 10% of the meeting because you’ll have more perspective.

Wrap Up

I hope this has been helpful. More than anything, I hope that this post inspires you to keep learning as a leader and to find leaders you respect ask them some “How do you...?” questions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions. Leave a comment below to connect.

Topics: Advice

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