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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Need to Challenge Your People? Try These Great Questions!

I am a great proponent of a one-to-one meeting to discuss the needs of the team member rather than the leader.  I strongly believe, as the members of my Vistage CEO peer group know only too well, that a great one-to-one with honesty and openness on both sides can elevate the discussion to a much higher plane.

The crucial factor is the realisation on the part of the leader that coaching plays a very important role in the art of leadership.  It is even more relevant where the leader has started and built the business and needs to transmit knowledge and experience to the management team.

Coaching is not just a routine for telling people how to do their jobs.  My good friend and Vistage speaker, Nigel Risner says, “Be the coach, not the commentator”.  It is mostly about helping rather than telling and also about drawing out and developing the natural abilities of the team member.

What takes time very often is the development of that openness and honesty on which the whole success of the exercise depends.  Many people are hesitant in opening up to a “superior” in the business

Challenge can be very daunting to a sensitive soul even when it is couched in positive terms and again it takes time for people to understand that challenge can open up new vistas for them and develop their natural abilities.

We often don’t know our capabilities and great coaches can draw them out and offer a new perspective on work and even on life itself.  Kindness and understanding are both essential components of the role of the coach allied with sensitivity and compassion.  No wonder that many leaders duck out of the coaching role and depute it to outside professionals.

It is a pity when this happens because coaching offers a great way for both parties to understand each other better and to offer to the team member a way to demonstrate their own understanding of their role and responsibilities.

When the atmosphere is right, when the team member feels ready, when the leader judges that low level challenge would be appropriate then a series of questions can open up the thinking of the team member.

For example, how about this for starters:

“What don’t you want to talk about today?”

That gives the individual an opportunity, if taken, to open up and bring out often deeply felt issues and that can be cathartic.  Again timing is of the essence.  Answering such a question can be painful and the team member has to be in a good frame of mind to accept that it is intended to be helpful.

Another great question is to ask:

“Given the opportunity, what would you be willing or unwilling to change?”

Change can be very painful for some and the good leader/coach understands that.  It can result in denial and denigration;  That’s a ridiculous idea” or ”We tried that before and it didn’t work”.

The status quo is not an option.  Indeed one of the vital parts of the leader’s ethos is a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo.  If we don’t move forward then we move backwards, or worse, downwards. 

Change then is inevitable and the leader needs to promote it, to discuss it and implement it while still understanding that it can be painful.
 aAnother probing question is:

“Where do you limit yourself?”

Self-limitation leads to the construction of a self-imposed ceiling on ability or ambition.  Admitting and tackling that limitation can help people to do things that they never thought was within their capabilities.

I will often say that as Chair of Vistage CEO peer groups of highly effective and ambitious leaders we need to be professional listeners, not advisers, but rather coaches helping our members to open up, to understand and confront their issues and to explore the options open to them. 

Everybody would profit from knowing and having a good listener.  In the end, everybody wants to talk about the most important person in their lives, themselves and that is where we, as leaders, can offer an outlet.

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