Today, leadership consultants tell us that if leaders want to be effective, they shouldn’t give orders but rather provide instructions. Here’s a paraphrase from a popular leadership development website: “Don’t say, ‘I need your report by Wednesday morning.’ Instead say, ‘Please review the data, provide two alternatives for moving forward and my expectation is you will turn in your report by Wednesday morning.’”
This leadership consultant is attempting to set clear expectations, empowering the employee to think for herself through coming up with alternatives. It’s good stuff. But could we take this a little further? What if we looked at how Jesus built His Kingdom to see how this would inform leaders in how to build their organizations to reflect His Kingdom?
In an earlier blog post, I discussed how the Kingdom of God spread organizationally and organically in the early church. Jesus had a lot of say about the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of a kingdom that has both organic and organizational dynamics. His way of leading nurtured the structural growth of the Kingdom of God can help leaders today see how our modern-day organizations might extend his kingdom. Specifically, did Jesus give specific orders in growing His Kingdom, or did he instead give instructions to His followers that provided clarity yet empowered them to creatively implement His agenda?
When we survey the gospels, we might be surprised to find Jesus building His Kingdom by asking more than 300 questions of followers, enemies and people in general. This is not to say that Jesus gave no orders or instructions, but that it wasn’t His only way of working. While we can’t know fully why Jesus interacted with people the ways He did, we might learn much about his way by looking at recent research into motivating behavior through asking questions rather than merely making statements.
In research entitled Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk: The Role of Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense (2010), researchers found that “self-posed questions about a future behavior may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal, leading a person to form corresponding intentions and ultimately to perform the behavior.” It seems when someone declares they will do something, much like the positive-thinking movement advocates (I will complete this project on time! I will lose weight!”), it locates the motivation to complete the task to the realm of extrinsic ideas. Also, declarative statements tend to shut down dialogue – and our brains!
However, when someone is asked (or asks himself), “Can I (or you) get this project done by Wednesday?” the question, by its very nature, opens up fresh possibilities of ways forward. The question creates space for answers to arise regarding the “how” of the task. It seems our brains are wired to see answers when posed with a dilemma. And perhaps more importantly, the motivation to pursue the goal and complete the task is intrinsic. The motivation, by simply answering the question with freedom of will, creates crucial buy-in. What leader doesn’t want that for their team?
How might following Jesus’ way of asking questions help us become better leaders?
- Questions create space between the question mark and the answer. A little gap of space is all God needs for hope to emerge, for ways forward to unveil themselves, and for feelings to be felt. Orders and instructions tend to produce automated responses with very little space created. Questions unveil paths forward.
- Questions tend to create reality. The right questions can create culture. Orders create culture as well, but the culture created can be short-lived since it is created from on high and not at the grassroots level.
- Questions invite openness of heart in the hearer for hope, fear, ideas, creativity, and even confusion to arise and be expressed. Questions invite dialogue. Questions invite heart-to-heart communication. Declarative statements may cause emotions to flow, but they rarely cause them to be expressed.
- Answers to questions help to create ownership. When one goes through the process of answering a question, the very nature of answering the question comes from within, which is where the only effective motivation can come from. Think of the difference it makes in your life thinking the Kingdom of God is distant and future versus realizing it is near (Matt 3:2), even inside of you (Rom 8:11)! Intrinsic motivation has power in the same way that the Kingdom of God within us has power in our lives.
Am I saying that a leader in a company or organization should never give orders or instructions? Of course not! I’m simply saying that we should follow Jesus’ way of leading by asking great questions.
DISCUSSION: How might you lead your organization to create space for creativity, build Kingdom-oriented culture, invite heart-to-heart dialogue and create autonomous, intrinsic motivation in your teams? Let me know what comes to mind in the comments section below.