Asking Questions

By Marianne Vangoor  |  January 27th

Leadership is a shifting thing. Just when you think you have something figured out and you are on top of your game, a curve ball comes your way and you have to navigate through new experiences. Even in this my 28th year of being an elementary school principal, I am still dealing with challenges that I have not yet faced and having to solve problems that I had not anticipated. As a leader, this can be frustrating and overwhelming unless we approach things with a spirit of curiosity and a self-reflective attitude. There are times it may seem easier to blame others when things go awry: “If only those students would stop … if only teachers would begin to … if only board members would not be so …”

Given permission, these narratives can run through our minds and stop us from learning and growing. It is up to us as leaders to change our perspective. One way to help alter an attitude is to ask questions of ourselves first before we ask them of others: “I wonder why this person responded that way?” or “What could I have done differently?” or “What might I be missing here?” or “How can I get a fuller understanding of the situation?” 

Studies have shown that leaders who keep themselves agile, curious, and always learning, are best able to adapt to the biggest and unexpected tests that arise. Liz Forkin Bohannon, founder of Sseko Designs, writes that “Curiosity is not only one of the greatest tools we have in building lives of purpose and mission, it’s a mindset that each and every one of us can choose, each and every day. And in doing so, we build up our curiosity muscle.” We need to use this muscle on ourselves. As educators, we know that soft skills, including self awareness, are often more valuable than IQ or “smarts” as predictors of success.

The asking of questions is a powerful teaching and learning tool. Daniel Pink explained in his book, To Sell is Human, “the interrogative, by its very form, elicits answers—and within those answers, are the strategies for actually carrying out the task.” The challenge for leaders is to ask meaningful questions of ourselves, and then be brave enough to humbly act on the answers that God’s Spirit may reveal.

Here are just a few questions to consider as you self-reflect at the end of a day: 

  1. Did I talk more than I listened? Did I like the sound of my own voice more than the sound of the voices of others?
  2. Was I accessible to those I lead? Did I show enough support and appreciation to those who work with or for me?
  3. Do I encourage risk taking or do I only want ideas that are tried and true? Do I say “Wow!” more than I say “How?”
  4. Am I developing as a leader?
  5. Do I ask for feedback on my leadership and then listen to what is spoken?

I pray for a discerning ear as you listen to the answers. As you listen and learn, you, your school and those in it will benefit.

Marianne Vangoor is the Lower Grand Leadership Cohort Mentor and Principal at Halton Hills Christian School in Georgetown, Ontario.