Use coaching to eliminate the lineup outside every leader’s door
There it is, the lineup outside one of your leader’s doors and you know there’s also a virtual line up in their email inbox of employees looking for answers. The lineup is a symbol that their team needs them too much and don’t have the critical thinking or knowledge of resources to solve their own issues. How do you help your leaders to develop critical thinking and independent problem solving in their team members? If they don’t, they could be a business risk as a leader if their team needs them too much and has become dependent on their leader.
In the Coaching Skills for Leaders program I’ve delivered in numerous organizations and to MBA students, we teach the skills of coaching in a manner that allows leaders to use these skills in everyday business situations from 2-minute hallway conversations to full hour performance conversations. The goal should not be to make your leaders coaches, but to add to their toolkit by adding the skill of coaching and help them discern when to use it as an effective tool for developing their people. We use our own model Establish Focus – Explore – Plan – Commitment that is similar to the GROW model with a deeper focus on forward moving action and commitment. Another great model comes from Michael Bungay-Stanier at Box of Crayons where he focuses on five key questions for leaders.
The above are all exceptional models, and it really doesn’t matter which model you help your leaders learn. What is most important is that you help your leaders learn a basic easy to remember framework focused for asking open ended questions. And, you can start without a framework at all, helping them recognize coachable moments and begin to ask questions that start with the word WHAT.
It’s not always the right time to take a coaching approach. In fact, in times of crisis, coaching is that last approach you want to take, but you can coach after the fact. Recognizing coachable moments isn’t easy at first because being a problem-solving leader yields high rewards in the short term. Team members do what needs to be done quickly and the right way, or so it appears. Long term, team members wait for answers from their leader, but there is a stifling of thinking when one person (the leader) makes all the decisions and solves all the problems missing out on the wisdom and thinking of the team. It also leads to a bottleneck effect and often a crisis when the leader goes on vacation if they can go on vacation at all. And finally, succession for the leader isn’t possible because long term development for their potential successors doesn’t happen.
Coaching really is about one curious question at a time. Curious questions usually begin with what but can take a number of forms. I try to encourage people to not over think their questions too much and really listen to what curiosity is bubbling up rather than sticking to a script. Although I do have one favorite question: What else? One curious question helps the other person to a place of evaluation and reasoning. Another benefit of coaching is it redirects thinking from a focus on the problem to a focus on developing solutions.
It really doesn’t matter what model you use to help your leaders learn coaching skills. What matters is that you help them see coachable moments and choose to ask one question as a starting place for developing critical thinking and unlocking a solution focused mindset in their teams. You’ll find those teams will develop greater problem solving and better solutions that any star leader ever could.