I have often been in the presence of really important and/or influential people whom I’ve longed to meet, only to find myself tongue-tied by the sheer anxiety of my honor for them. I have usually walked away having asked some stupid questions or making some ridiculous comments. Of course, an hour later I regret my behavior and I am filled with questions I wished I would have asked. Therefore, I decided to proactively put together some insightful questions that I can ask to learn from their experience. Here are the questions I thought of:
- What are the three most important accomplishments in your life?
- What gets you up in the morning – why are you alive?
- Who have been the most influential people in your life and what have they taught you?
- Tell me about any experience that changed your life.
- What is the worst mistake you have ever made, and what did you learn from it?
- What do you do for fun?
- What are your three greatest strengths?
- Describe your relationship with God.
- What do you do to cultivate your relationship with God?
- Who is the most important person in your life besides God?
- What are your greatest character virtues?
- What is your greatest struggle? What are you doing about it?
- Who do you most admire in life?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Who are your enemies and why?
- What is your greatest childhood memory?
- What is the best book you have ever read?
- Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
- What’s the greatest loss you ever experienced and how did it affect you?
- Who are your closest friends and why?
- What’s one thing people misunderstand about you?
- What do you love most about yourself?
- What is one thing you wish you could change about yourself and why?
- When you build teams, what qualities do you look for in the people you want to join you?
- Describe the vision you have for the next 30 years.
To be clear, it’s not my goal to ask anyone 25 questions or make them feel like they are being interrogated. I would use these questions as a guideline. There would also be questions that I would want to ask certain people that would be specific to their story and would not be in my list above.
We can learn so much from other people’s experiences. I believe that wise people learn from the mistakes of others so they don’t have to make the same mistakes themselves.
I can’t count the amount of times that people have waited months for a meeting to ask my counsel, and then they spent 50 minutes of their hour appointment doing all the talking. Personally, if I agree to meet with a person (which I hardly ever do because I am simply too busy), it is usually because I feel like I am supposed share something with them. But many of them leave my office having told their story, while I sat silently and listened.
Here are a few things that I have learned about being in the presence of great leaders:
- Don’t preach to preachers! I have made this mistake so many times. I have met with someone important and then tried to impress them with my latest revelation. Bummer for me!
- If you called the meeting, make it clear when you make the appointment exactly what and why you want them to speak into your life.
- If you ask for their input and then you don’t agree, don’t argue with them. You made the appointment because you wanted their insight. If you knew what to do you probably wouldn’t be asking them. Therefore, they are most likely going to tell you something that you didn’t think of.
It’s your life! If you don’t like their counsel then don’t take it. But arguing with them is dishonorable and stupid.
- Busy people usually don’t have time to be your best friend. Putting them on the spot by asking them over for dinner, etc. is usually not wise.
- Never ask for an important person’s contact information. Most busy people keep their contact info private. If they do give you something like their email address, don’t use it to send to group emails, especially one that all the other participants can see their address. And NEVER give out their info without their permission!
I’ve changed my email address three times because people use my private address in their public emails.
- Seek to understand before you make comments about somebody’s situation or their theology.
I can’t tell you how many times people assume my motives, and then determine to correct me without the facts.
- If you give someone a gift it can’t have strings attached! If you give someone a gift to obligate them to ANYTHING then you are manipulating them. Giving them a gift to honor them or support their work is great.
- Stay inside the time that is allotted to you. Don’t make the leader have to ask you to leave. If you are given 30 minutes, keep track of the time and stand up at 28 minutes to finish your “thank you.” Remember, 30 minutes means you are out of their office by then.
I have asked a person to leave as many as four times while they continued talking. I have literally opened the door of my office and walked outside, while they continued to talk. People like that will never get another meeting with me!
- Don’t bring disruptions into these meeting with you. Turn off your cell phone! People have lived without them for thousands of years. We can do without them for an hour.
Don’t bring disruptive children into important meetings. I have tried to talk to people over the years while children climbed all over the furniture in my office. I have talked over crying babies trying to give advice to people, while mom or dad is working to comfort their child. We raised 4 kids and 8 grandkids. I love children, but there is a time and place for everything. Get a babysitter!
I will close with this advice from Solomon: “Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call understanding your intimate friend.” Proverbs 7:4.