One of the Best Leadership Questions You'll Ever Hear

One of the Best Leadership Questions You'll Ever Hear

Okay, that’s a big claim. But that’s the category this falls into for me.

I can’t get the question off my mind. I heard Michael Hyatt ask it and it’s proving to be extremely clarifying

The question addresses one of the most serious issues anyone leading anything faces: obstacles that will set you back and discourage you.

Been there?

Before we get to it, let me give you some context.

When you start out in leadership, you see the road ahead as filled with opportunities.As you get a little more experienced, you see that it’s also filled with obstacles.

Between you and the opportunities are obstacles that take out more than the fair share of leaders.

The obstacles leaders routinely hit include:

Lack of money

Slow progress


Difficult team members

Personal discouragement

Your limits as a leader

Unforeseen circumstances

It’s easy to end up discouraged, defeated and deflated because things didn’t turn out nearly the way you thought they would.

But the truth is things rarely, if ever, do turn out the way you originally think they will.

The difference between leaders who make it over time and realize their mission and the leaders who don’t is simple: successful leaders learn how to navigate obstacles.

That’s where Michael Hyatt’s excellent question comes into play.

Here’s the question:

What does this experience make possible?

I love the question because it helps you find the opportunity in every obstacle.

When obstacles present themselves it’s easy to ask questions like:

Why is this happening?

How come this doesn’t seem to happen to other people?

What I have I done to deserve this?

Is this ever going to end?

Those questions are natural, but they are not all that helpful.

What does this experience make possible? is a much better question.

There are 5 ways this question can help you:

1. It will seed innovation. A few years ago some of us tried to buy a building to start Connexus.  At the 11th hour the deal fell apart. We had to be innovative in finding a solution on almost no resources. It led those of us who started Connexus to begin our ministry in movie theaters and in two locations. While not everyone saw that as an ideal scenario at the time, it was innovative. And 5 years into it:

i. We have discovered that portable church is sustainable and is compelling for both churched and unchurched people.

ii. Our two locations have reached more people than one ever did.

iii. We are reaching more people than we ever have before.

iv. The challenges of doing portable, multisite church has created a greater alignment in leaders than I’ve ever experienced and rarely see elsewhere.

2. It will force you to think realistically but positively. The question forces you to deal with reality but not get stuck in thinking there are no options. Negative thinking is contagious. When you run into obstacles almost daily as a leader – which you will – how you think about them ultimately impacts how your organization thinks about them. Asking what this experience makes possible will force you to see where the opportunities are in every situation and force you to get out of any potential rut.

3.  It will remind you that God is with you.  There are almost no ‘everything went just the way I thought it would without any opposition or issues’ stories in the Bible. Noah faced ridicule and a flood. Joseph got sold out by his family, imprisoned and betrayed before he became Prime Minister. David was anointed king…and then waited while the current king tried to kill him. Daniel met lions. Jesus’ life was characterized by constant opposition. Paul spent much of his ministry in jail. And God was with them. They didn’t give up, and fulfilled the ministry God had given them beautifully.

4. It will help end the pity party. Too many leaders sulk or grow cynical. You end up stuck in your own leadership or criticizing anyone who is a bit more successful than you. Not a good place to live.

5. It will help you lead with hope. Leaders are dealers in hope. That’s the Gospel, right? As bad as it gets, Jesus is Lord. As out of control as it seems, God is in control. Hope bridges the gap between what we see today and what we will see one day. You need to lead with hope. Think about it: don’t you wish people in power today led with more hope?

You can read more about Michael’s question in this post about it or listen to a recent podcast he did on it.

What do you think of the question?

How might it help you grow as a leader?


  1. Nicole Patteson on June 10, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I just wrote this question on an index card and am going to post it in my house. I think God led me to this post TODAY of all days as today was a day of a big obstacle/disappointment. It is a hope filled question and makes me look for where I see God in the situation.

  2. Craig Jutila on May 30, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Great post. Love number 5! “It will help you lead with hope!” Sometimes the only thing standing between me and the quitting point it hope. Crashing through those quitting points because we have hope. Wow! Great reminder.

  3. Leadership in 140 Characters | Eric Echols on May 25, 2013 at 6:37 am

    […] One of the Best Leadership Questions You’ll Ever Hear by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Chris Shumate on May 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

    It is cliché to say, but appropriate: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    Thinking about what can be learned from an experience, then applying it will definitely make you stronger. Case in point, the two brief stories shared by Jon and Ryan in this thread.

    I learned a lot about perseverance through a place I worked while dealing with difficult people. I also learned a little more about patience and applying it to other situations.

    I like to think about this question from a positive standpoint also. When I receive a call about an opportunity it is needed, for me, to ask myself, “What does this experience make possible?” Often times it can put us in a position to be around stronger leaders that will strengthen us in areas. We take what we learn and strengthen others.

    Thanks for the post, Carey!

  5. Jeremy Drew on May 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Carey, I look forward to every post and I find something that challenges and encourages me each time. I make my staff read them and it helps us grow as leaders. Your book on change was a Godsend to me after a very difficult change process. Your words of wisdom reminded me of the right path. Thank you for your ministry.

  6. Ryan Sargent on May 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Needed this. Keep writing. Thanks and God bless!

  7. Jon Radar Pinney on May 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    It is going to take some thought but I need to apply this to raising ‘someone else’s kids’. Often it seems more like Joseph that Noah. Noah had a direct plan from God. I don’t see any evidence in Joseph’s story that he was given much hope that it would turn around. It is hard in the middle of it. Raising kids someone has damaged is often frustrating and overwhelming. To look at each day, hour, through the lens of this question (as apposed to the others you listed which come up a lot) will be interesting.

    • Ryan Sargent on May 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm

      We raised our nephew from 5 years old (similar situation). I started out thinking I was helping him, but he helped me far more. He turns 20 in two weeks and is beginning his journey to go forward to help others as well. I guess one of my take aways is that with special challenges, come special blessings. I don’t know all the details, but I am familiar with your struggle. May God bless you and your family.

      • cnieuwhof on May 24, 2013 at 9:09 am

        Thanks Jon for your question and Ryan for the advice. I don’t have experience raising others’ kids but I can tell you your insight on Joseph is bang on. All we know is he was assured God was with him…he just wasn’t assured of where God was taking him.

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