5 Questions Great Leaders Ask When Dealing with Challenges

Guest Post by Chris Natzke

“Quality questions create a quality life.  Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”

– Anthony Robbins

Questions.  I have heard innumerable times in my life that the quality of our lives is in direct proportion to the quality of questions we ask ourselves.  This is particularly true when are dealing with challenges.

As leaders in our lives and in our organizations, challenges are indeed a constant.  Ask any leader who embarked upon something big, and they will almost always tell you that they never arrived at their desired outcome in the way they had planned.  Challenges which required their flexibility, perseverance and creativity to course correct, were the one constant in their journey.  They will also most likely tell you that their ability to move through these challenges were best served by asking themselves and their teams empowering questions for how to handle the challenges before them.

When we are met with difficulty or challenge, it is often a very natural human reaction to ask “WHY”.  However, “Why is this happening to me/us?” is almost never asked as a means of finding a solution.  Rather, it denotes that we are victims of our circumstances and places our attention on our dire situation rather than having the forward focus to move through our obstacles.

With that said, I would like to offer the following empowering questions I believe great leaders ask themselves and their teams when dealing with challenges.

  • What’s REALLY happening here? – Imagine a situation, past or present, that you label as challenging that is bringing upset to you or your team. It could be a customer breaking an agreement, or a team member not following through on a commitment or a boss requesting work be completed in what you consider to be an unreasonable deadline.  Regardless of the situation, when we find ourselves in these moments, it is very easy to get caught up in the emotions of anger, fear and resentment and begin to blame others for their irresponsible and insensitive behavior.  Their inappropriate or unfair actions or inaction (from our perspective) then becomes our point of focus in dealing with the challenge.  It steers how we communicate, how we perceive current circumstances and acts as a filter for how we view possible solutions and actions to embark upon. While taking time to vent our frustrations with a challenge, in the short-term, can be a very healthy thing to do, ongoingly staying in this negative energy is not.  The truth is that in looking at challenging situations from an objective point of view, there are only two options; “what happened” and the “story” or meaning we’ve created about it. While being caught up in the emotions of the challenge may seem like the natural thing to do, it does not help us in truly dealing with the challenge.  Where do you have an opportunity to extract the judgements and emotions around a challenge and simply deal with what is REALLY happening?
  •  What WANTS to happen here? – I recently heard my friend, Bob Tipton, give a presentation on this very question. It really got me thinking.  How many times in my life and business, when I am undergoing challenges, do I prolong or exacerbate the situation because I am too suborn to give up on my position of “how” things are supposed to unfold and refuse to take an objective look at what is naturally wanting to take place?  Many times, we have get so entrenched in our positioning that we overlook the signs right in front of us.  These signs are meant to encourage us to look at the situation differently, accept where things are naturally wanting to go, and course correct from that perspective.  This does not necessarily mean to give up on our goals, desires and intentions.  Rather it means to step back and take objective look at the “how” something is wanting to unfold and if our refusal to be flexible and open to other ways of looking at the situation are exactly what are keeping us stuck.
  • What do I/we need to KEEP doing? – Regardless of the perceived severity of the challenges we face, there are will most likely still be activities or values that are netting positive results and would be beneficial to continue to practice. “What is working?”, is a great question to begin the conversation (both internally and externally) when dealing with a challenge.  It can provide a sense of upliftment and confidence within yourself and your team from which you can continue to build upon and create solutions.  Successful leaders are aware of their personal and team strengths that net positive results, especially in the wake of challenges.  Identifying and maintaining the practices of what you are doing well can act as a wonderful foundation for new and creative ideas and actions to come forth.  What are the activities you will keep doing in the wake of a challenge?
  • What do I/we need to STOP doing? – While there are definitely activities that are beneficial to continue doing to bring you your desired results, great leaders also have to have the ability to look objectively at situations and make decisions as to what actions they will discontinue because they are not netting the results they desire. We are all creatures of habit and there may be activities we have embarked upon for years just because that is the way we have always done things, that are now in need of a change.  This can be highly uncomfortable, especially when these behaviors have become an established part of a team’s culture.  As the famous story goes, “Are you cutting off the ends of the ham because the pan is too short, or because that is the way you’ve always done it?”  Where do you have opportunities to stop doing processes or behaviors, even if they have always been done that way before?
  • What do I/we need to START doing? – Now that you’ve identified what is really happening, what are your empowered ways of being and the activities you will continue and discontinue, it is now time to identify what new actions can be undertaken. The great thing about challenges is, in retrospect, we often will eventually view them as absolute gifts in our process.  They not only required us to look at things differently, but also drove us to take new actions to achieve our desired results; breaking up old patterns that have kept us in our comfort zones and impeded our growth.  While massive actions of change are sometimes necessary, I often find that more subtle changes, implemented consistently over time, bring the most impactful and long-lasting results.

For instance, as I’ve shared in the past, a 1% daily improvement over a year can net results 37 times greater than when you began.  Take that daily up-leveling out to 2 years and you will see a result 1,400 times greater than when you started.  Take that pattern out over 5 years and the result is a staggering increase of 76 million!!!!!  What actions can you start doing NOW that will net you the greatest benefit in dealing with your challenge?  Where can you step out of the box to undertake a new action and apply it consistently?  You may be pleasantly surprised when you recognize how challenges, both past and present, have brought forth a gift for you and your organization you could have never imagined had the challenge not occurred.

  • BONUS QUESTION – How do I/we need to BE to realize our desired results? – While taking action is indeed vital to dealing with any challenge, I would argue the place inside ourselves from which we take that action is even more important. We may not be able to control the dynamics or circumstances of every situation, but we can ALWAYS control how we respond to them.  Our sense of BEing is the one thing that is always within our domain of control.  We may not like the situation, it may scare or anger us and we may not want to accept it, but our overall sense of Beingness in dealing with the situation is always in our control. Ghandi is famously quoted as saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I believe no truer words have ever been spoken.  So, what does this mean for you?  Does dealing with a challenging situation work best when you approaching it with anger, despair, worry, confusion, panic or resentment, or are you and your team better served by your ability to be focused, courageous, confident, trusting, creative and even loving? The choice of BEing is always ours.

Beginning this week, how can you up-level the questions you ask yourself and your team to move through the challenges you are currently facing? How can a change of perception and appropriate action transform your results?  What questions are you willing to ask to make this a reality?

Chris Natzke


Chris Natzke is not only a champion himself, but he has been training others to find their own Inner Champion for over four decades. As an 8th Degree Black Belt/Master Instructor and former national Taekwondo champion, Chris ranks in the top 1% of all martial artists in the world. Now as a life-leadership coach, keynote speaker and best-selling author; his passion is sharing his unique brand of Black Belt Leadership so others may discover the most empowered version of themselves – leading to clarity of purpose, increased confidence, and the courage to take inspired action to make their dreams come true.  Chris is the author of two books, Black Belt Leadership: 7 Keys to Creating a Life of Purpose by Discovering Your Inner Champion and Breaking Through: 3 Winning Strategies to Create Breakthrough Results in Your Life, Business and Relationships.


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