Develop your employees using the coaching habit

Giving advice is easy but trying to solve everyone’s problems will hurt you and your business over the long term.

Becoming a strong leader means being able to help grow your employees into confident individuals. Developing a coaching habit will help you achieve that. If you adopt a solid coaching habit, it will sustain you as a leader and help you avoid three common workplace problems that often burden leaders:

  1. “Creating overdependence” – Employees easily become dependent on leaders to do their work for them. This is a common problem for leaders who are always ready to step in and help. Coaching prompts employees to handle their responsibilities themselves.
  2. “Getting overwhelmed” – As a busy leaders, you have a mountain of work every day. The last thing you need is employees who try to unload their work on you.
  3. “Becoming disconnected” – When employees aren’t confident about their job abilities, they avoid challenging tasks and projects. Coaching enables employees to step up and ask for the toughest assignments.

Training yourself to ask people you’re coaching questions is an important new behavior you should develop as a habit. Use these questions with employees you supervise and with “customers, suppliers, colleagues, bosses, and even…spouses and teenage children.” These questions can transform your scheduled one-on-one sessions with employees, your business and team meetings, as well as reshaping unplanned conversations in the hallway.

Here are Seven Essential Questions to help you develop your coaching habit:

1. The “Kick-Start” Question
Ask, “What’s on your mind?” to initiate a focused conversation. This question directs the conversation to the most important issue, as defined by the other party. Asking it puts that person in charge of the direction of the conversation. This question makes it clear that you want to talk about your employee’s most pressing issue, not your own. After opening with this question, use the

“3P model” to focus the conversation. The three P’s are:

  • “Projects” – Determine what your employee is working on and discuss
    current assignments.
  • “People” – Consider the employee’s relationships with “team members, colleagues,
    other departments, bosses” and “customers.”
  • “Patterns” – Exploring your employees’ habitual behaviors can reveal how you can help
    them approach and accomplish their jobs more effectively.

2. The “AWE” Question
Ask, “And what else?” This is the single most effective coaching question. By asking it, you generate greater understanding, improved mindfulness and enhanced self-knowledge, which increase the potential for meaningful two-way communication. The AWE question grants you more time to shape the conversation in a productive way. It enables the employee to discuss candidly whatever is on his or her mind. The AWE question moves you away from turning into an “Advice Monster.” The following haiku explains effective coaching: “Tell less and ask more. / Your advice is not as good / As you think it is.” While this coaching philosophy makes sense, it’s not easy to implement. The AWE question helps you remember to listen before you speak.

3. The “Focus” Question
Ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” This question helps you uncover a deeper issue worth addressing, not “just the first problem” your staffer cited. Many leaders try to solve problems as soon as they arise. Instead, “tamp down the ‘Advice Monster’ and help people quickly figure out their own paths.” However, the way people first characterize a problem often has nothing do with the underlying issue. “Instead of moving into advice-giving, solution-providing mode,” ask the Focus question. Its phrasing conveys your understanding that the employee faces numerous challenges and that one of them matters more than the rest. The words “for you” personalize the issue and make the employee responsible for determining which concern is a priority

4. The “Foundation” Question
Ask, “What do you want?” Like the focus question, the foundation question – and its companion question, “But what do you really want?” – take you directly to the main challenge. Think of this as the “Goldfish Question,” because it can cause people to react by staring at you while their mouths open and close soundlessly. This question won’t be easy for employees to answer. The foundation question deals directly with the common illusion that those participating in a conversation know what everyone wants to achieve. You and your staffer must determine the need that underlies the want. For example, if a worker wants to leave early one day, try to ascertain why leaving early is important. “Recognizing the need gives you a better understanding of how you might best address the want.”

5. The “Lazy” Question
Ask, “How can I help?” This question saves a great deal of time. It cuts through all the hemming and hawing. It requires your employee to make a direct request of you concerning what matters most to him or her. The lazy question prevents you from immediately jumping into action and trying to solve a problem before you fully understand the situation. The wording of this question proves critical to its effectiveness. A blunter version is “What do you want from me?” If you decide to use the more direct version, preface it with “Out of curiosity…” You could also start with, “Just so I know…”, “To help me understand better…” or “To make sure that I’m clear…”

6. The “Strategic” Question
Ask, “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This is a complex question. You’re asking the employee to commit to the previous yes. This precludes the popular excuse, “I never said I was going to do that.” The strategic question asks employees to examine the implications of their choices. It can also clarify the “boundaries and form” of the employee’s no. Here again, the 3P model of projects, people and patterns can be useful: What projects should you delay or stop working on? What connections with other people should you sever? What lapsed ambitions should you attempt to fulfill? “What habits do you need to break?”

7. The “Learning” Question
Ask, “What was most useful for you?” Along with the initial kick-start question, the learning question is a “Coaching Bookend.” This question guarantees that everyone will find these meetings and sessions meaningful. Asking this question enables the employee to achieve a valuable “learning moment.” It focuses the staffer to pause, think and pay attention to the most important new information that emerges from the conversation

To learn more about the Seven Essential Questions coaching technic; read the book: “The Coaching Habit: Say Less Ask More & Change The Way You Lead Forever“.