“We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!” This has been ringing in my head as my husband and I went to this play over the weekend at a nearby college. The college students who put on the play did a fantastic job! I wondered how many times the boisterous song rang out from the Lion, Scarecrow, Tinman, and Dorothy, all wanting to see the Wizard of Oz. After a long journey to meet him, these four friends were surprised to find that the Wizard was anything but welcoming. Dorothy, with some trepidation, says to him, “We’ve come to ask you…” she is promptly cut off. “Silence! The Great and Powerful Oz knows why you have come.” 
This brought the question to my mind: How often have those who would seek our help find us not open to hearing from them? How often do we assume what others need without taking the time to ask questions to discover what they truly desire? In the book Tempered Resilience, Tod Bolsinger describes how a leader’s character is forged. He describes one aspect of this character formation coming from being hammered in stressful occasions, when listening is needed most. I hope to draw some insights from Bolsinger in this essay, and provide additional principles about listening, a much-needed practice for leaders to learn and provide for those they lead.
Character: Where listening begins
I recently enjoyed interviewing an English author and professor of the New Testament. We had a lively discussion about Jesus and the questions he used to surprise and connect with his listeners. The author made a great point when he stated that Jesus did not use questions as a technical tool, but questions came from his character. Bolsinger supports this idea as leaders “deliberately practice” spiritual disciplines, they come from being “embodied” by the leader.  In other words, “Listening in such a way that leads to a new way of acting, a new way of obedience.”  There is something beautifully intended when we set our sights on listening to others. Something in us must be determined to listen, much like making the choice to encourage, pray, or worship.
Curiosity: Where listening is stirred
Jason Clark raised the question at the November 14th zoom meeting: “What are your thoughts on Jesus and how he views numbers?” This question stirs the imagination. Dr. Clark referenced the stars in the galaxy and how there are too many to count. (Psalm 8:3-4) Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who studies the origin of the universe believes “mysteries are what drives us as human beings, not knowing is more exciting than knowing, because it means there is so much to learn.”  With so much to learn and to be curious about, we can approach those we lead with the wonder we would have in looking at the stars. I like how Bolsinger applies this to his life, “I have a goal for every statement I make in a conversation or meeting to ask two questions I genuinely don’t know the answer to. This is harder than it seems but learning to ask good questions is one way to develop a greater capacity for listening and attuning to others.”  Interest in what others have to offer is like asking someone: “Tell me about the stars in your galaxy.”
Connection: When listening happens
How will your family be celebrating Thanksgiving this year? This simple question is heard in the month of November as Americans anticipate this holiday. This question quickly connects us to others and the people who mean the most to them; this presents an opportunity to hear their heart and explore not just the facts of their family but possibly finding out how this gathering will feel for them. Bolsinger states, “Listening not only helps us to learn, but it also helps us feel. Listening not only helps us learn ideas but also to understand at a more visceral level why those ideas matter.”  This not only happens in an interpersonal context but in ministry or professional contexts. Listening and asking questions facilitates powerful connections. In Matthew 18:12 we find Jesus asking the disciples, “What do you think?” Simon Walker, in his book The Undefended Leader, encourages, “The basic role of the leader is to ‘push the problem back to the followers’-push it back under their noses, so they can try and deny it and bury it. Your role is to help them apply themselves to the problem, trust themselves and find the resources to solve it.”  Asking, “What do you think about this?”, “How do you see resolving that? “How might you take ownership in this area?” ignites a connection in ownership to what needs to be achieved and puts the leader in a listening position. Asking questions and listening for answers promotes connections at an interpersonal level and in the spheres of ministry and work.
 Gregersen, Hal, Questions are the Answer, 2018, p.43
 Bolsinger, Tod, Tempered Resilience How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change, 2020, p. 131
 Ibid. p.137
 Gregersen, p.123
 Bolsinger, p. 148
 Ibid. p. 145
 Walker, Simon,The Undefended Leader, 2007,p.155