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Leaders Don't Need Answers

Coaching Conversation

They just need great questions!

In a Linkage Leadership Insights blog post, Susie Kelleher shares that coaching was by far the most impactful (and also the most gratifying) leadership skill she has learned during her career. Few leaders coach others well, as it hasn’t been foundational teaching in the past, but the ones who do create tremendous success for organizations and individuals.

Highlights from the Article

Leaders often feel they need to have all of the answers; that’s why they were promoted, right? Wrong. Leaders need to have great questions and live in a place of curiosity without judgement.

Engaging leaders are excited about igniting the potential in others. Purposeful leaders know that others have great insight and ideas, and by uncovering those ideas in others, they not only get better solutions, but also increase discretionary effort of those they lead.

Coaching Tips

  • When someone comes to you with a problem, question or opportunity, ask questions to help them gain clarity on the issue (not for you to gain clarity, but for them). Questions that start with what, how, when, where, and tell me more.

  • Then, listen with authentic curiosity as they talk. Let them continue to talk and tell you more. Stay fully in question mode; don’t jump in to solve.

  • When coaching individuals, spend about 50 percent of your time helping them get crystal clear on the real problem. Then, spend another 20–30 percent of the time flushing out possibilities by asking more questions. Give them space to look at the same problem from different angles and take new perspectives on situations.

Coaching Traps

  1. Asking questions to lead them down a path you think they should take. Be careful to stay in a place where you are truly asking questions to help them get greater clarity on the problem and generate new possibilities.

  2. Asking questions to get more information so you can be more informed to solve the problem. Your questions should be in service of them finding the solution, not you finding the solution.

  3. Moving to action too quickly. The longer we stay curious, the more likely they are to come up with an action step they are truly excited about for the RIGHT problem.

  4. Ego takeover. Don’t let your position or insecurity get the best of you. Leadership is about empowering and enabling others to do extraordinary things for the sake of everyone’s success. Truly inspiring leaders lead from this place. Sure, there are times when you will offer ideas, but practice making that the exception and not the rule.

To get started with developing your coaching skills, consider reading Michael Bungay Stanier’s book The Coaching Habit. If you can learn to coach rather than solve, you will exponentially increase the potential and engagement of your team members.

The Gifted Perspective

We agree that coaching skills and leadership skills are synonymous. In our experience, the best leaders are also skilled coaches who know how to engage and bring out the best in others.

Susie Kelleher is right: If you do a good job coaching, the person seeking an ear will often tell you, “Here is what I need to do.” They come up with the solution, are excited about the solution, and are clear on what they need to do and why. They are fully bought in on the action they need to take.

By doing less telling and more asking and partnering with your colleagues and employees, you can create an inspired workplace.

We will partner with you to coach, consult, support, and encourage you through the change process involved in becoming an enlightened, coach-like leader. Contact us today about individual leadership coaching or our Teams That Talk™ coaching approach!


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