The best leaders are also the best coaches and what do they all have in common: they ask great questions.
When I was in school, I would always do my homework at the kitchen table while my Mum made dinner. I would be writing away and suddenly come across a word I couldn’t spell. I would raise my head, look at my Mum (who knew everything) and say, “Hey Mum, how do you spell, incredulous?” She would turn around and say to me “Excellent question Michelle. Where do you think you could find the answer to that question?” My response “Can’t you just tell me Mum?” Her response “How will you ever learn if I do that.” So off to the dictionary I would go. In those days the dictionary was this massive red book on the shelf and not Google. But when I had to look it up and take the time, I remembered it, cause I didn’t want to have to look it up again. After a while, I didn’t ask my Mum how to spell words, I just got out the dictionary.
My Mum was, and is a great leader and a great coach. She never just hands the answer over, she always makes me think and explore my own personal resources. Just like my Mum, great leaders ask great questions to make us move beyond a simple answer and allow us to live “above the line” and take accountability and responsibility for our own learning. They help us spark our curiosity and make us “think for ourselves” rather than rely on another. They inspire us to work it out for ourselves, and when we do, it means so much more.
Many leaders have years of experience and they probably are confident to answer all the questions their staff ask them. But a great leader has to be able to spark curiosity, deeper thinking and autonomy. You can’t do that when you give the answer to every question you’re asked.
Asking a great question is not always easy and it takes practice. It is often easier to provide the solution especially when pushed for time, deadlines are looming and we have a “needy” employee at our feet. We also need to consider that asking a great question requires tact so as not to spark defensiveness, but rather allows investigation of new ideas and allows for “light bulb moments” for our staff.
Have a go at some of these great questions:
“What are your options?”
Too often we provide THE solution, or we tell someone where to find the answer. What if we asked them, “What are your options in discovering the answer to that question for yourself?” We can provoke thought, problem solving, creativity and decision making. Aren’t these things we want to promote in our staff?
Exploring what’s possible is always a thought provoking discussion. When my kids were young, they always used to ask me great questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Do clouds have babies?” or my favourite “Mum, you said you have a baby inside you, did you eat it?”
Children ask great questions (well most of the time) that provoke great discussion and exploration. When leaders ask their staff and their team a “What if” question, they are asking their team to be curious, entertain all possibilities and consider “out of the box thinking”
One of the most dangerous statements any staff member or team can make is “This is the way we’ve always done it!”
“Tell me about that?”
So many times leaders make assumptions and take for granted what they think is occurring in any given scenario. Never assume! Ask!
Leaders should demonstrate the qualities they want to illicit in their staff. So they also need to be curious and ask a question that allows them to explore meaning and assist the staff member to tell their story in a safe and supportive environment.
“What really matters here?”
This is a really important question, but often leaders don’t ask this question often enough.
It can be a great way to get to the heart of any decision or problem and “sort the woods from the trees” by simplifying what needs to be paid attention to and what is (or should be) just white noise in the background). It tends to keep people focused on the right priorities.
And last but by no means least
“How can I help?”
We always want to help. Our inclination and drive is to lend a hand if we can to anyone in need and offer a solution. But do we always have to play Superman (or Wonder Woman) and swoop in and rescue them. Unfortunately in the world of work, this can do more harm than good and we can disempower our people. Rather we can ask “How can I help” which enables a person to think about the problem they have and how another can genuinely assist. This can be the first step to “owning” the problem and decision making to find a solution.
Want to know more about asking great questions? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about “Leaders as Coaches” training.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at www.bakjacconsulting.com or email@example.com