The best leaders are usually not defined by the answers they give but by the questions they ask. The longer we are in leadership, the more curious we should become. Leaders should cultivate the ability to ask powerful and probing questions. Jesus was a Master at this. He asked more than 150 unique questions during His ministry on earth that can be divided into the following ten categories [thanks to Vicki Farina (2007 Research Paper)] …
1.Level/Cost of Commitment (Mark 15:34; Luke 6:46; John 12:27; 13:38)
Jesus asked these questions of His followers as well as Himself. Today, these questions challenge us to look at the cost of following Jesus. In coaching, the same challenges are presented. The person being coached is asked to determine the “cost” in terms of barriers to remove, issues to release or energy to expand, and to make commitments to action. The reasoning behind this conclusion is that individuals do not follow through on action until they have counted the cost and are willing to make the commitment.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Mark 15:34 (NIV)
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46 (NIV)
“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” John 12:27 (NIV)
“Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” John 13:38 (NIV)
2.Compare/Contrast for Learning (Matt. 7:9, 11; Mark 4:13; 9:50; Luke 11:13)
Often Jesus’ questions were in the form of a comparison, simile, or analogy as He used everyday life to teach valuable lessons. Such questions would be followed with a thought-provoking question to engage the person’s mind. These types of questions often provided a contrast so the hearer could make application and draw conclusions for his/her own life. In coaching, such questions that engage the mind in comparisons and contrasts help the person being coached pursue change through analogy, comparison or simile. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Matthew 7:9 (NIV)
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11 (NIV)
“Then Jesus said to them, Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” Mark 4:13 (NIV)
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50 (NIV)
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13 (NIV)
3.Identity (Matt.16:13, 15 and Mark 5:9)
Jesus asked several questions related to His identity, not because He did not know Who He was. Rather, it was to help the hearer identify Who He was so that in knowing Who He was we would know Who we can be. In coaching, it is often helpful to deal with identity issues of all types. Unlike Jesus, people are not always in touch with their own identity. Many suffer from low self-esteem or just have not identified their full kingdom potential. Questions that focus people on identity issues are used to free them to become the people they were created to be. In other cases, the person being coached needs to identify people who can contribute to his/her journey of change and action. Or maybe he/she needs to realize he/she is embracing a false identify or one that is not in his/her best interest. The skillful coach will ask identity-related questions.
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” Matthew 16:13 (NIV)
“Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’” Mark 5:9 (NIV)
4.Challenge Beyond/Huge Requests/Expand Vision (Matt. 5:46; Luke 6:32; 24:25-26)
Key coaching competencies include helping the person being coached move beyond boundaries and limiting beliefs. Jesus often provided people with the opportunity to be challenged to move beyond where they were, to take risks, remove barriers and limitations. Jesus also coached people to identify and move beyond existing patterns.
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” Matthew 5:46 (NIV)
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.” Luke 6:32 (NIV)
“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’” Luke 24:25-26 (NIV)
Jesus was a master at generating paradigm shifts. He often turned people’s thinking upside down. His questions were powerful and penetrating, and the thinking person could not help but reflect on the meaning of the question, not to mention the shift it had the potential to create. Coaches are always looking for ways to help the person being coached make shifts in thinking which lead to shifts in behavior.
“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” Matthew 12:29 (NIV)
“Jesus replied, And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” Matthew 15:3 (NIV)
“When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?’” Matthew 17:25 (NIV)
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” Matthew 18:12 (NIV)
“‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’” John 2:4 (NIV)
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them.” John 13:12 (NIV)
6.Beliefs/Values (Matt. 6:25; Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25; John 5:47)
Essential to all behavior are underlying beliefs, values and needs. Coaches are especially interested in how these dictate behaviors for their clients. If someone does not have their needs met they will “act up”. People will get their needs met even if it means they compromise their values. It is important that we get our needs met in a biblical, healthy way. Understanding belief and value systems and discovering what one needs is crucial.
Dynamic behavioral change can happen at this level. Questions that provide insight to the person’s system of belief are of paramount importance. Jesus asked more questions in this category than any other. He offers us a variety of question styles to model from and encourages us by His example to pursue questions around beliefs and values and needs.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” Matthew 6:25 (NIV)
“He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” Mark 4:40 (NIV)
“‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:25 (NIV)
“But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:47 (NIV)
7.Resource (Matt. 6:28; Mark 8:19; Luke 14:28)
When people are making changes, it is often necessary to point out available resources. Sometimes change is not accomplished because of a lack of awareness of resources. Coaches ask faith-building questions such as, “Who do you know that can help?”, “What resources do you need in order to do this?”, “What resources do you have?”, etc. Jesus pointed out that resources often exist which He can multiply and that resources need to be assessed before proceeding.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” Matthew 6:28 (NIV)
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied.” Mark 8:19 (NIV)
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:28 (NIV)
8.Reference to Past Learning/Knowledge (Mark 10:3; Luke 10:26)
Part of the coaching processes is helping others access prior knowledge. In life there are situations in which “we don’t know that we don’t know”. That is, we cannot discover solutions to issues because although the components of that solution are stored in our brains, we have not connected the pieces. Asking the right question can connect those pieces. A coach questions in order to access that stored knowledge which has been accumulated through past learning and experiences. Jesus did the same, sending people back to what they already knew and reminding them they knew the answers through His question.
“What did Moses command you?” he replied. Mark 10:3 (NIV)
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” Luke 10:26 (NIV)
9.Relationship (Mark 3:33; Luke 10:36)
Through Jesus’ questions on relationships we see He did prompt some learning about relationships through His questions. Often we are stretched in our relationships through questions. Coaches use questions to probe relationships in the person’s life and to discover how these relationships might support the person being coached in the change process.
“‘Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.” Mark 3:33 (NIV)
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Luke 10:36 (NIV)
10.Core: Heart & Motivation (Matt. 9:4; 20:32; Luke 11:40)
Jesus asked questions designed to cause one to look at inner motivations and heart issues. What is really going on inside a person’s heart? The coach helps the person being coached by asking questions that uncover heart and motivational issues.
“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” Matthew 9:4 (NIV)
“Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.” Matthew 20:32 (NIV)
“You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” Luke 11:40 (NIV)
Not everyone will respond to self-discovery in a positive way. Recognize not everyone Jesus encountered with questions responded in a way that brought their full kingdom potential. But He continued to love anyway. God designed us to exercise our free will. We must allow the Spirit to do the inner-heart changing work for others.
We must rely on the Holy Spirit to use our voice and mind to ask someone a question with the discernment of the Holy Spirit. We pray that it will evoke the response of changed thinking and changed lives. It is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for the changing work that happens inside the person being coached.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” (Albert Einstein)
Asking Powerful Questions
1.Open-ended questions (innovation) 2.Promote self-discovery (insight) Allows the other person to create. 3.Encourage action (action)
More Powerful QuestionsLess Powerful Questions Why, How, What Who, When, Where Which, Yes/No
Characteristics of Open-Ended Questions
1.Generates curiosity in the listener 2.Stimulates reflective conversation 3.Challenge the responder to think 4.Invites creativity and new possibilities 5.Cannot be answered with one word
Examples of Open-Ended Questions
Closed-ended question: Did you do your homework this week?
Open-ended question: What stood out to you in your reading this week?
Closed-ended question: Which days did you read this week?
Open-ended question: What worked for you this week in your quiet time?
When asking questions and making decisions, timing is everything …
Wrong Decision @ Wrong Time = Disaster Wrong Decision @ Right Time = Mistake Right Decision @ Wrong Time = Rejection Right Decision @ Right Time = Success
Questions I’m learning to ask myself …
a.Am I Being Completely Honest With Myself?
Why am I doing this, really? ... If someone in my circumstances came to me for advice, what course of action would I recommend?
b.What Story Do I Want To Tell?
God’s will for your life will always line up with His law, His principles, and His wisdom.
c.Is There A Tension That Needs My Attention?
When you’re making a decision and one of the options raises a little bit of that tension, PAUSE and allow it to get as big as possible before you make the decision.
d.What Would Be Most Honoring To God?
e.BQE … In light of my past experiences, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for ME to do? (Time, Morality & Finances)
Jennie Allen has a resource entitled "50 Questions To Ask Your People" that you can download here.