Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
I was recently talking with a group of leaders about the time, energy, and intentionality it takes to lead well. As leaders, we often have a specific way of doing things and can get caught thinking our way is the only way to do things. The problem with this way of thinking is that it leaves little room for innovation and improvement.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to not only change our way of thinking, but to empower our teams to find the right answers for themselves. One way to do so is to practice coaching team members, rather than telling them what to do.
Coaching can happen in a few minutes or over a longer period of time. It can be one conversation or six months of regular check-ins. Regardless of when or how coaching takes place, it takes intentionality. It’s important to get your direct report’s honest reflections, which only comes with regular and intentional coaching conversations. Coaching conversations require active listening and the use of open-ended questions to explore alternative solutions and guide the conversation toward an action.
Asking Open-Ended Questions
The goal of asking open-ended questions is to get your direct reports thinking about solving their problems and overcoming their challenges instead of coming to you for answers. Questions are great for generating ideas, solutions, and even possibilities that might not have been considered.
Below are a few open-ended questions to consider:
- How is your project progressing?
- What challenges are your experiencing?
- How have you tried to overcome one of the challenges?
- What else can you do to overcome another challenge?
- What support do you need to be successful?
- What actions will you take going forward?
- When should we meet again?
Active listening is not only about hearing the words spoken, but also capturing the nonverbal signals and emotion behind the words. It takes work with all the distractions that we experience internally and externally. To actively listen, you must focus on both understanding the words and staying present in the conversation. Active listening allows you to catch the things that might be going unspoken, then ask open-ended follow-up questions to dig deeper. Active listening is about listening to understand, not listening to respond.
Coaching is challenging because it forces us to slow down, rather than continue to plow ahead or do things our way. It also means we aren’t providing answers or solutions ourselves, but developing our people to think critically, take chances, and learn from mistakes. Although more time intensive initially, coaching creates development opportunities for our people, which often leads to deeper engagement from our teams. No matter how good you are at coaching, it takes intentionality and practice to continue honing those skills.