Leadership expert Katherine Farnworth explains how asking open questions can help fellow workers figure out the answer for themselves
A few months ago, we spoke about the importance of coaching, so I thought it might be useful to revisit the topic, because coaching is so important to developing leadership capability. As you may remember, we discussed initially what coaching is. And while it does guide, support and help individuals, the actual act of coaching is to ask open questions in a structured way so the ‘coachee’ can find a solution from within themselves. This simple act of ‘asking’ so an individual finds the solution, rather than ‘telling’ the solution can impact in so many positive ways.
To remind ourselves, ‘telling’ the solution actually trains people not to think for themselves, it invites people to be compliant, rather than committed, and we know ourselves that when we do something because we have been told to do it, we don’t really engage wholeheartedly with the activity. This can be very demotivating. However, if we decide our own destiny, decide how we will overcome a challenge, achieve an objective or implement a task, we are so much more engaged with the activity. In this way, our sense of responsibility increases. If we come up with the ideas and solutions, then we make them work! Accountability becomes a happy by-product.
Directing, or telling, does still have its role, but should not be the default position. We do need to direct when an individual is a new starter, or they are doing a task for the first time. We can’t coach someone who is a novice, an individual will only be able to find solutions from within if they have some experience. We also direct if there is a matter of urgency, or a non-negotiable situation – following certain rules, for example. However, outside of those situations it is better to develop our coaching skills as much as possible, not just to get the job done and know that people have understood, but because coaching can dramatically increase levels of engagement. As people, we face a contradiction. We may like to tell others what to do, but rarely do we like being told what to do. So, don’t tell people what to do, unless you have to.
Increase your question asking day by day, and see how people respond. Open questions will start with what, who, where, when, why and how. Typical questions might include: ‘What do you want to achieve’, ‘What can you possibly do’, ‘Who could you speak with to help you’, ‘What challenges might you face’, ‘How will you overcome those challenges’ and ‘What will you do first’?’
During your next coaching opportunity, see if you can talk less than 20 per cent of the time, and just ask open questions to engage your coachee. No matter how experienced you are, don’t tell the answer. Only if all avenues have been exhausted, then offer some advice or guidance, but let the coachee work out things for themselves first. That way, you develop your leadership capability, and develop the other person too.