Asking powerful questions

One day last month several of us participated in a clinic on coaching. Rhonda Bennett, SetSailMinistries, led the daylong training.  She had some very helpful implications for us as we coach our staff, our student leaders and volunteers.  At first I thought that this was really great for, say, life coaching or helping someone deal with personal issues.  But I could see how this would also be really helpful as we coach our leaders in their ministries.  A few things stood out that I wanted to pass on.

First, we had a little discussion about the difference between “telling” and “asking” as we work with others.

  • Telling is directive.

    • It helps us be clear.  We get to the matter faster.  There can be better quality control.  We have a real sense that we are helping.  The person knows what we are thinking.
  • Asking is non-directive.

    • It shows respect.  It anticipates self-discovery.  Collaboration, participation, ownership and dialogue are fostered.  Two brains are better than one.  Trust is engendered.

Now, we do need to do both as we coach others.  The art of leadership is knowing when we tell and when we ask questions.  But I think we have a tendency to tell more than we ask.  This helped me to think more about how to frame what I want to accomplish by asking questions.


Second, there are two over-arching questions as a starting point. “Where are you right now?” and “Where do you want to be?”  I liked how this considers both situational analysis and the vision.

Third, there is nothing like the joy of personal discovery.  Whether choosing a career path or developing a ministry plan, sensing God’s direction builds faith.  Rhonda listed five key steps that bridge from where we are now and where we want to go.  And with each step she offered what she called powerful questions.  Questions can often unlock wisdom necessary to open doors.

  • Focus on the conversation

    • What would you like to get from this conversation?
    • What feels most urgent to you now?
    • Of all the issues, which one is your top priority?
    • What is the best use of our time together?
    • What do you need most for yourself?
  • Explore options

    • What outcome do you want?
    • What is the best thing that could happen?
    • If you know what wouldn’t fail, what would you do?
    • What have you observed has worked for others?
    • That’s one option…what’s another?
  • Plan the next steps

    • Of all the options, what’s most compelling?
    • What do you need to do first?
    • Who or what do you need to include to succeed?
    • Who do you need to talk to?
    • How will these actions contribute to achieving your goal?
  • Address obstacles

    • What might prevent you from succeeding?
    • What’s missing?
    • What resources do you need?
    • What are the roadblocks you expect or know about?
    • Who do you need to communicate this to?
  • Review

    • Tell me what you are going to do and by when.
    • What are you taking away from this conversation?
    • What will you have achieved by our next meeting?
    • For our next meeting, what date and time will work best?
    • How would you like me to hold you accountable for your commitments?

Here is more on asking good questions.

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