The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras to withstand the strongest hurricanes. Admired as one of the country's most celebrated works of architecture, even the most brutal of hurricanes always left the Choluteca Bridge intact.
But, in 1998, a hurricane named 'Mitch' changed everything. Mitch destroyed and mangled nearly every bridge in Central America. Even then, the Choluteca Bridge stood firm, but something happened that no one could have calculated: the river moved out from under it.
With the bridge still in perfect condition, the roads on both ends had entirely disappeared. More importantly, the river had carved itself a new channel, leaving the bridge to cover dry ground.
The bridge became widely known as The Bridge To Nowhere.
What do you do when the river moves from under your bridge?
The story of the bridge to nowhere speaks to me about leadership. Wise nonprofit leaders understand leadership as fixing a problem BEFORE it becomes unfixable. It is about listening to any funny noises our car is making now, while the repair is still possible.
Nonprofit leadership is about listening to the culture, our donors, congregations, and constituents now, while repair is still an option.
Leadership is about realizing the river is carving a path out from under your bridge–BEFORE IT HAPPENS.
The river is moving. The culture is speaking. World at war. Teen suicide. Drug addiction. Equity. Inflation. Recession. Abortion. Free speech.
The river is carving a new path. New conversations are happening. It is painful to see so many nonprofit leaders doing a lot of talking when they should be doing more listening.
When the river is carving out another path, it is time to ask a LOT of questions and do a LOT of listening. Wise nonprofit leaders right now are making the extra effort to reach out to their staff, donors, and constituents to draw out what they are feeling and seeing.
Wise leaders take their car to the shop when they begin to hear strange noises, LONG BEFORE THERE IS A BREAKDOWN.
I am tired of podcasts dedicated to 'the new reality.'
I am tired of webinars centered on 'the changing landscape.'
But as a leader, I can't afford to miss the direction of the river under my bridge. A moving river requires realigned priorities, innovative training, new paradigms, and creative and fresh leadership.
As leaders, we should ask ourselves, "How am I helping my people cross barriers, hurdle obstacles, overcome problems, and defeat the hardships hindering them?" Our people depend on us to be their bridges and help them fulfill their dreams.
When the river moves, harness the power of questions and listening.
Great listening begins with asking great questions.
I have found that getting profound answers involves asking penetrating questions. Shallow questions get superficial answers. Pastors, nonprofit leaders, and missionaries who harness the power of great questions are at a distinct advantage when rivers move.
Studies show that teams universally believe that one-to-one interactions with their leaders positively affect their performance. However, studies also show that many employees feel their manager is "not prepared" or "not prepared at all" for their one-to-one interactions.
You can change that by arming yourself with profound questions ahead of time.
Great leaders collect great questions
When you realize the power of great questions, you will begin to collect them. Before your meetings and interactions, look over your collection of questions and choose some fresh ones to ask.
The more you use them, the more you will become aware that great leaders understand and harness the power of great questions, especially when rivers are moving.
As a great leader, you too should be a collector of questions. I have done this for years.
To help you get started, I put a few of mine in a PDF just for you. It's my gift to you. You can get my free download, "Profound Questions Cheat Sheet," to help in your quest for new answers for your mission.
Print it out, circle a couple of questions, give it to your direct report, and ask them to choose two before you meet. I promise you will get fresh insight from the people around you.
You can start collecting great questions and carry all your conversations to another level!
Don't be unaware that the river might be moving out from under your bridge! ASK PROFOUND QUESTIONS AND LISTEN!
Get my "Profound Questions Cheat Sheet," HERE Keep saying thank you, telling stories, AND asking profound questions!
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