Since most managers don’t know how to coach, they become part of the nonstop, problem-solving legion of frustrated “Chief Problem Solvers” who habitually do other’s work, create dependency, and nourish the seeds of mediocrity.
Here’s the unfortunate consequence. Once you solve someone else’s problem, even with your good intentions, you’ve adopted their problem and made it your own, relinquishing ownership rights and accountability from the person who brought this gift to you, which you kindly accepted. Consequently, their daily challenges become the gift your direct reports keep on giving.
Regardless of the coaching framework you use, every framework consists of well-crafted, precision-based questions to facilitate the conversation. These types of conversations empower people to self-reflect and arrive at a solution or new insight on their own.
At the core of coaching, the theory is simple: Tap into each person’s individuality by starting every conversation with the intention to understand the person’s point of view, goals, motivation, skill set, priorities, strengths, behavior, and way of thinking through the strategic use of well-timed, open-ended questions.
Powerful questions encourage people to develop their own problem-solving skills and amplify their self-awareness of personal strengths and opportunities to better their best. It is imperative to recognize an individual’s favorable traits and talents when coaching, in addition to addressing areas for improvement.
But what happens if the coachee can’t recognize their own gaps or Achilles’ heel in thinking, strategy, or behavior? It’s not that you never offer guidance or advice, but the chronological order in which you do. After you’ve leveraged these coaching questions, only then is the timing right for the coach to share an observation that the person would benefit from which they did not see on their own. And people can’t change what they don’t see.
Coaching is not an event with an on-and-off switch but who you are as a leader. Great leaders who are insatiably curious and caring lead every conversation with questions, rather than answers. With the right questions, the coachee creates the solution or solves their own problem. Now, it's theirs so they have ownership of the outcome, not the coach. If the coachee created the solution, they're more apt to act on it, rather than being told what to do.
It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect answer. People often resist what they hear but they believe what they say. That’s why the question is always more powerful than the answer.
In any conversation, the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask. I have found that the following 10 questions, which are part of my L.E.A.D.S. (Learn, Enroll, Assess, Define, Support) Coaching Framework, apply in practically every conversation. I've also provided some insight around the intention of certain questions, and why they must be asked.
These chronological questions are sure to make your coaching more efficient, effective, and intentional. They will give you a start and end point in every conversation, preventing you from floundering in the coaching abyss and derailing your coaching when searching to find the right questions to ask.
When you give people the space to share ideas, be heard, and receive acknowledgment, it strengthens people's confidence, along with the level of trust that's essential for great coaching and collaboration to occur.
Of course, depending upon the conversation, you may not need to leverage every single question, which is why you can make a measurable impact in 10 minutes or less. However, as you use my L.E.A.D.S. Coaching Framework throughout your coaching efforts, you'll start recognizing the questions that work best.
Keep in mind, this is just one way to facilitate an effective coaching conversation. And if you don't have a great manager or a coach in your corner, you can also leverage these questions for self-coaching. (Just don't argue with yourself over the responses you hear.)
What is the outcome you’re looking to achieve here?
Can you share the specifics of what’s going on?
What have you tried so far? (This avoids the closed-ended interrogation question: "Did you try A, B, C, D, etc.”)
How have you handled something like this before? (What was the outcome?)
Why do you think this is happening? (What’s another way to look at this and respond? What else can also be possible or true? What assumptions could you be making here?) Stimulate critical thinking. Get to the root cause or issue. Uncover a new possibility or coaching moment.
What's your opinion on how to handle this? While everyone may not have a solution or be comfortable sharing an answer in fear of being wrong, everyone has an opinion. And opinions are never right or wrong, which is why you will avoid the, "I don't know," response. Now, you can always uncover their point of view first, before you share yours. (Bonus questions: “If I wasn't here, what would you do to achieve or resolve this?” “If we were to switch roles, how would you handle this?”)
What’s the first thing you need to do to (resolve or achieve this)? What would that conversation sound like when you talk with ...? (Coach behavior, attitude, and their messaging. The big miss when coaching is stepping over the myriad of opportunities to coach people on the messages, talk tracks, and communications they are sending out.)
What resources do you need? (Who else do you think needs to be involved in this? How else can I support you around your efforts to complete this?) Danger: Don't ask, "How can I help?" In the coachee's ear, this translates into, "What responsibilities and tasks do you want me to do for you?"
What are you willing to commit to doing/trying/changing (by when)?
When would you like to reconnect to ensure you have achieved the result you want?
Many managers operate under the faulty belief that you only coach when solving a problem, dealing with underperformance, or jumping in to help close a sale. Coaching transcends beyond this. That's why every conversation is a coaching conversation.
Leading with powerful questions rather than with answers will stretch the coach and the coachee beyond the typical, superficial, result-driven, firefighting conversations, which get stressful, redundant, and frustrating.
If you're still holding on to your role as “Chief Problem Solver,” it's time to hang up your cape. To become a true hero, bring out the hero in those around you by coaching them to excellence.
“It is imperative to recognize an individual’s favorable traits and talents when coaching, in addition to addressing areas for improvement.”