Ask Better Questions to be a Better Leader

Leadership is NOT about having all the answers (you never do), it’s about enabling all the talents. If I give you a solution and tell you what to do, you might solve that problem, for now. But if I teach you how to think, then you can go and solve many problems without me in the future. And that is the core of the coaching approach to leadership. Just like a coach who can’t get on the field to play that game instead of you (the player), but has to do their best to prepare you so that you can play the game to your fullest potential. By asking good questions, you are coaching others’ way of thinking and leading, thus investing in their potential! This will increase the self-esteem, agency, and mutual trust of your team. Let’s explore more!

Embracing the Coaching Mindset

✊ Empowerment Over Instruction: Leaders with a coaching mindset focus on empowering their team members rather than directing every action. This involves guiding individuals to discover solutions and make decisions independently, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. HOW? Answer a question with a question (What do you think?). Let them wrestle with the problem a bit. Resist micro-managing. Create opportunities for learning in action (let them present, speak in meetings, etc.)

👂 Active Listening: A coaching mindset requires excellent listening skills and the ability to ask insightful questions. This approach helps leaders to understand the perspectives, challenges, and motivations of their team members, leading to a deeper understanding of the problem. HOW? Use your curiosity, and ask additional questions. Listen carefully to understand, not to respond.

🔎 Growth and Development Focus: Leaders embracing the coaching mindset prioritize the personal and professional growth of their team members over short-term gains. They view mistakes and challenges as learning opportunities and invest time in developing individuals' skills and capabilities for long-term success. HOW? Allow mistakes and imperfections in the name of learning. Find time to debrief together after that meeting/training/event. Ask questions before you share your feedback.

🫂 Embrace the trust mindset: At its core, a coaching mindset in leadership is about building strong, trust-based relationships. Leaders who coach effectively demonstrate trust, empathy, respect, and genuine interest in the well-being and success of their people, which in turn enhances team cohesion and performance. HOW? Let people know that you trust them. Show them that you believe in their potential, beyond just this one task.

Some of my favorite questions

Coaching is not reserved only for certified professionals and experienced leaders. All you need to do is, instead of projecting ideas, start asking good questions to foster collective thinking. Here are some ideas:

1️⃣ What’s really the challenge here? (there is always a deeper challenge underneath)

2️⃣ What do you think is behind that challenge?

3️⃣ What is one thing that you know you should be doing, but are not doing?

4️⃣ If your friend had the same problem, what would you tell her/him?

5️⃣ Tell me more (powerful phrase asking you to expand).

Action Steps to Take Today

🫵 Next time someone asks you “What should we do about XYZ”, try responding with “Tell me more” and/or “What do you think?” These are my two favorites. Very easy to implement and work in every situation. Invite the other person to expand on their thinking with “Tell me more” and listen. Then invite them to share their idea with “What do you think”. This will start shifting the way you think about conversations and your relationship with others.

❓ Next time you are about to start solving a problem, before you start, ask yourself this question: “What question am I trying to answer here? What is the key question I need to answer in this challenge?” Asking the right question will lead you to the right answer/solution.

📚 Book Recommendation

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier is the book that changed the way I think about leadership. Here are several key points:

Ask Don't Tell: One of the book's core principles is the shift from giving advice to asking questions. This approach encourages self-discovery and empowerment among team members. It's based on the idea that asking the right questions can help individuals find their own solutions.

🤔 Building the Habit: The book emphasizes the importance of turning coaching into a daily habit rather than seeing it as a formal, scheduled event. It suggests practical ways to integrate coaching behaviors into everyday interactions, thus making coaching a natural part of leadership.

👹 Taming the Advice Monster: Resist your tendency to jump in with solutions before fully understanding the problem. The book provides strategies for keeping the Advice Monster in check, emphasizing the value of being curious for longer, resisting the urge to solve problems too quickly, and instead focusing on developing the capabilities of team members.

There is a tremendous power in using what we already know, what we already have. By asking yourself and others good questions, you are tapping into that existing potential and expanding it.

I want to leave you with this question today: What would happen if you did everything you know you should do and if you became everything you could become?

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