C-19 will see a drop in performance during the transition to distributed leadership models. This is expected but how do you get back to where you were or better still lift overall performance using new virtual ways of working? The world needs trust, compassion, hope and stability more than ever. The world also requires leaders to adapt their style to cope with rapid change on many fronts.
Leaders who use coaching techniques as a means of virtual exploration and building rapport will be far more successful. If you are genuinely curious with your questions, the people you work with will feel valued and listened to. This, in turn, builds essential trusted relationships.
With a trusted relationship, you develop two things: You share personal responsibility and you build a safe space to express the truth. You want to know what's really going on (without micro-managing).
C-19 has created plenty of manager-employee tension without asking for it. On the positive side, tension is that uncomfortable space that helps shift a person's belief or perspective for personal growth. So what does tension look like in May 2020?
Takes someone out of their comfort zone (tick)
Unearths a blind spot (tick)
Identifies things a person might have been avoiding (tick)
Challenges and unsettles someone on an issue that is meaningful to them (tick)
Bingo - I am sure many people are experiencing some of these right now. That's where coaching comes in. Great questions create the space to help someone make meaning about the situation they are experiencing to enable them to move. C-19 has by default created the conditions for experiential learning to thrive.
Some useful coaching questions to use right now
The key to being a successful leader is three-fold:
Pick your moments to use coaching techniques,
People have capacity to solve problems for themselves and
It's not about you.
Picking your moments means sometimes you'll need to lead, sometimes coach, sometimes just be there to listen and sometimes call out bad behaviour. It's messy and thankless. Take heart in believing the employee is the expert of their situation with the capacity to solve their own problems.
It's not about you. Your job is to draw out that expertise in a collaborative and non-threatening way. If you find yourself stuck or drifting into the leader-as-expert mode, just ask another question until you've gathered your thoughts.
A good question is something you don't yet know the answer to. I find it's helpful to respond to a statement with a good question, especially if that statement is loaded with emotion.
Here's a summary of how you can ask great questions to help people solve problems for themselves.
Ask open-ended questions. These require an answer with greater depth and a lengthier response. They are non-limiting, allow creative answers, enable unexpected responses and encourage further dialogue. Open questions are useful in finding out more about a person or a situation. How, why and what questions are open.
Be wary of open-ended questions that may give a one-word response (e.g. What is your favourite ice-cream?) or can be inferred as judgemental (e.g. Why did you do allow that to happen?). How, what and why (in that order) are the three best questions start with:
How - Tell me, how does that work?
What - What is one thing you have tried?
Why - Why did the process give you that outcome?
"How" is a really powerful way to ask a question. It is my go-to option 90% of the time.
Next, these questions are open but potentially limiting through eliciting a one-word answer:
Who - Who … did that?
Which - Which … one is the best?
When - When … did you get there?
Where - Where … is the document now?
Closed-ended questions can be answered in only one word or with a short, specific piece of information and have the potential to end a conversation prematurely. They can quickly be taken the wrong way by giving the perception a leader is insensitive or flippant. The recipient has to answer with a binary choice - usually yes or no. Avoid these types of questions as much as possible where your goal is exploration to get to the heart of the matter:
Have you ... tried … ?
Do you ... want ...?
Is that ...what you wanted?
Shouldn’t you ... do something?
Could you ... try harder?
Would you ... look into that?
Can you ... fix that?
Will you ...take the bins out?
Did you ... forget that?
Combined questions are a way of using closed questions to get to an open question to keep the conversation going. For example, what is your favourite ice-cream, and why?
Powerful questions are open-ended questions that:
minimise any assumptions,
are contextually relevant and
are asked in a way the receiver can best process it.
Here are some examples of powerful questions:
Employee: I am disappointed the company has decided to head in this direction. I can’t see how this will be successful.
Manager: I can see this news has had a significant impact on you, what are you seeing in the direction that might have been missed?
Employee: I have an idea and that team should do it this way.
Manager: If they changed the way they work, how would that help? What would the result be? How important is this change to you and your customers? By making this change, what might they have to say no to?
Employee: I can't stand Billy. He's driving me crazy ...
Manager: Ok I can see your frustration. What is your biggest challenge with Billy? And what else? What do you want Billy to do differently? What help do you want from me in this situation?
Here's some brilliant questions
Before you challenge someone, assuming the moment is appropriate, I find it helpful to ask permission: "Can I ask you a difficult question?". Here are my five favourite toughies:
What is the question you don’t want me to ask you right now?
If our roles were reversed, what advice would you give yourself?
What might be the most outrageous thing you could do?
What needs to happen before you will do something about this?
When are you at your most/least energised and engaged with your work?
And here's one bonus question. This question is often difficult for Managers to ask of their team members:
"What ideas can you give me to be a better Manager?"
Where to from here?
Though coaching is useful, a savvy leader will recognise that not every situation is a coaching opportunity. Sometimes time is of the essence or, the other person is not open to a coaching conversation. When done well, leaders who coach create the conditions for high performance. Being in service of others is the end-game and motivates employees to excel and kick up their discretionary effort. It's never about you. By sharing personal responsibility you are building an environment of: "We are successful together" and this drives improved performance. Coaching is the essential difference that takes a leader well beyond a "command and control" leadership style.
Thanks for reading to here!
I hope life's great, Bruce
About Bruce Mullan
Bruce is a leadership coach integrating leadership strengths, agile disciplines and a coaching mindset to successfully navigate the growing complexity of our external world