Great Coaches Know How to Do This One Essential Thing

Posted by Cathy Reilly


Jonas Salk said, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” In other words, “Good questions lead to better answers.”

Ask, don’t tell. 

A great coach builds a habit of asking questions. They also think less of what a habit can do for them, and more about how the new habit will help the people they care about. 

In the workplace, managers and leaders knowingly or not, are coaching. They love to give advice. That’s how they’re programmed. Managers have spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it. They believe it’s their job to tell employees what to do, even compliant ones. This generally doesn’t work for the simple reason people don’t like being told what to do. It neither inspires nor engages. 

Managers need to change their coaching habit from telling to asking. 

In my last blog I mentioned Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habits and how to change them. Put simply it’s changing the mechanics of your approach. 

Researchers have come to understand the structure of habits as cues (or triggers), routines, and rewards. For example, don’t try to ignore your afternoon snack craving. Every time you feel the cue for a snack, insert another routine. For example, take a walk. The walk is both your new routine and reward. It might not provide the immediate gratification of a snack but it will soon be more rewarding, and provide greater benefits. And it will become your new habit.

What to ask.  

In his book The Coaching Habit Michael Stanier applies specific steps to changing a routine. When a work situation involving your employees triggers your tendency to fix a problem for them, smother them with advice, or bury them in minutia, try something more effective to break from that pattern and achieve better results. 

Instead of repeating past behaviors, Stanier suggests that you apply a new micro-habit . . . ask questions. He offers the below seven essential questions that provide an entirely different approach and set the foundation for a far more inspiring and engaging exchange. 

  • The Kick-start Question: What’s on your mind?
  • The AWE Question: And what else?
  • The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • The Foundation Question: What do you want?
  • The Lazy Question: How can I help?
  • The Strategic Question: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  • The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?

Questions are a great way to begin to change the way you coach an employee. When you are faced with a situation that triggers you into coaching overdrive, it’s relatively easy to shift to a question. 

A strategic and open ended question is a concrete, short and specific micro-habit that takes less than sixty seconds to complete, and will lead to bigger habits. It will also begin to empower employees to explore answers to your questions and put those answers to work. It might also prompt them to dig deeper to become the answer themselves. 

Questions are especially powerful with initiative-takers in a group. When coaches ask, allow others to respond, and listen, initiators are more likely to absorb and implement suggestions because the coach hasn’t dominated the conversation. It is also more likely to motivate others to be even more proactive. In this way, a coach creates an expanded circle of productivity. 

In any organization, an inspired and engaged workforce is an employer’s dream and benefits everyone from customers to colleagues. Help employees get there with great coaching developed through the powerful habit of asking questions.

Topics: Management

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