Coaching and Questioning

[The following was prepared for Leadership Lab participants.  It is posted here partly as an easy way to distribute the information to Leadership Lab participants, but also because of the wider usefulness of the content]

During the course of the next six weeks we are all going to be coaches. We are embarking together on a learning journey. Just what is a coach? A coach is someone who facilitates learning in others. Generally this is done by helping an individual to clarify a goal and identify actions toward meeting it. In Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, Mary Beth O’Neill writes that coaches approach clients with, “the kind of trained yet natural curiosity of a journalist or anthropologist to the leader’s work situation.” As such, it is important to understand just how to question your fellow participants (and indeed yourself) to facilitate this learning.

To facilitate learning in ourselves and others our goal is to question with a truly inquisitive spirit as opposed to a skeptical one. By questioning we want to help the coachee to grow in their understanding of solutions. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams describes moving from the “judger” path to the “learner” path by changing the way you question:

learnr vs. judger

Click on the image to improve the clarity.

While it is pretty natural to judge, it isn’t productive. If you feel yourself instinctively wanting to judge, simply acknowledge the feeling and control the impulse, instead opting for a more productive line of inquiry. This goes for coaching others as well as your internal dialogue. For many of us this will be a new way to approach challenges. The goal of each question should be to help bring about clarity on how to approach the challenge. Pondering such questions should help bring about wisdom. Here is a list of “wisdom access questions” to further assist in this new way of thinking:

What is this costing you?

What is the goal?

What is beyond the problem?

What is ahead?

What are you building toward?

What has to happen to call this project a success?

What’s in the way?

What would make the biggest difference?

What do you hope to accomplish?

What’s the first step?

What’s important about that?

What’s the ideal outcome?

What’s working for you?

What would you do differently?

What haven’t I asked that I should ask?

What needs to be said that has not been said?

What else do you have to say about that?

What is left to do to have this be complete?

What do you have invested in continuing to do it this way?

What do you suggest?

What is the simplest solution here?

What are you willing to give up?

Please keep this approach in mind not only in our group coaching sessions but also in your interactions with colleagues and perhaps most importantly, in your own internal dialogue.