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Sunday, 7 July 2013

How Good a Coach Are You? You Need to Ask the Right Questions!

Ever had a “light bulb” moment?  That time when you hear something and immediately realise that it was there all the time and you just hadn’t noticed it?  I experienced just such a moment during the recent Vistage UK National Chair meeting participating in a coaching workshop led by the excellent Carole Gaskell (www.fullpotentialgroup.com)
We were exploring the subject of questioning which is central to good coaching and especially the need to major on the open questions rather than the closed.  Open questions start with Who, Why, What, When, How and Where and to quote Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in that order. 

In fact the starters can be split into two sections; those generating transactional answers and those bringing on transformation. 

In simple terms, Who, Where and When can be defined as transactional in that the person being coached is initially likely to concentrate on the superficial level of the issue.  There is no harm in starting with this technique of course as very often the context needs to be explored in some detail. 

However, at the next stage we need to drill down to establish whether what is being described is the real issue.  It is surprising how frequently the headline changes during a coaching session and using the transformational starter words, this can often be achieved. 

The starter words are Why, What and How all of which help the coachee (there must be a better word!) to go deeper into the issue.  Carole has a strong belief that Why should be avoided as it can lead to justification, rationalisation and sometimes just waffle as well as tending to sound aggressive. 

We differ on that point.   Careful, and I do mean careful, use of Why can help to drill down into a problem and can lead to another cliché, peeling the onion.  An alternative is to use “and what else?” as an encouragement to open up and accept for reality. 

In fact, all of this is yet another GBO, a Glimpse of the Blindingly Obvious, but when we are coaching people or even in a discussion, do we really ask the questions that can and should lead to the other person digging deep and finding the right answer, which may be painful?  Certainly the light went on for me. 

One of my CEO group members says that we always know the answer to a problem but don’t want to admit it until it is brought out into the light by a competent coach. 

All of this leads to the reminder that an important part of the leadership function is that of coach to the team and some form of coaching training can help the leader to polish his/her technique. 

There is a line leading from coaching through mentoring to consultancy and I believe that the best position for a leader in business on that continuum is somewhere between coaching and mentoring. 

However, successful coaching is a two way function.  Coaching cannot be imposed to someone who doesn’t want to be there.  The result can be resentment, defensiveness, irrationality and makes the whole thing a general waste of time for both sides.   

Watch out for what the psychologists call cognitive dissonance; the knowledge that a poor decision has been made but it is defended to the death.  Politicians are very adept at that.  Your people should be encouraged to be open, honest and transparent in their answers with a strong emphasis on confidentiality. 

Great coaching doesn’t only depend on the sensitive and forensic questioning; it demands listening and a demonstration of interest from the coach.  Listening is not just hearing; it is hearing with an intellectual input leading to an output of value. 

All senior people on the team should act as coaches to their people.  Ask yourself, how good are they, and you for that matter? (and thank you Carole for that light bulb moment)
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