Stop Telling; Start Asking

offer questions

Getting the best out of your employees today requires a new set of skills. You need to help your employees achieve their goals, but too much “telling and pointing” will backfire. More than answers, today’s leaders must offer questions. This is the essence of coaching and a skill-set imperative for leading.

At the risk of bringing up a sensitive topic in Ontario these days with golf courses being on the “restricted pandemic behaviours list”… remember the best golf coaching you’ve received? You may have received exceptional tips from the pro, but think about the experience that stands out above the rest. Likely it wasn’t the coach who said, “Do it this way!” but the one who helped you find your own best swing.

The same goes for leadership coaching. Great leaders know that direction-setting and advice are valuable. But the most powerful tool in a great leader’s kit bag are the questions that spark an employee’s thinking. Coaches help people find their own best answers.

Many leaders put inordinate pressure on themselves to have all the answers. Ego can get in the way. After all, being seen as an “oracle of information” can feel great. While these leaders genuinely want to be helpful to their team, they ironically end up blocking the development of their people.

As a leader, you must relinquish control. Leadership is about allowing others the chance to achieve and flourish. Offering great questions confers power and control to your employees, allowing their egos a chance to shine. So, ask yourself:

  • Am I a good listener?
  • Do I ask more questions than I give answers?
  • Am I patient with employees’ issues or do I jump in to solve them before I’ve heard the whole story?

Let me be clear about the types of questions I’m not endorsing:

  • Rhetorical questions – often delivered in sarcastic tone where there’s no real expectation for the employee to reply.
  • Questions to show the leader’s own knowledge – demean the employee.
  • Interrogating questions – put the employee in a defensive position.
  • Questions to bring you up to speed – valuable for your needs as the manager, but don’t help employees expand their thinking.

Conversely, here are a few questions to open employees up to new possibilities:

  • What approaches have worked for you in the past, when you’ve been stuck?
  • What would be a wildly impossible solution if you had no constraints?
  • If you stepped back and took a bigger view, what would you see?
  • If this relationship were to move from a “four out of 10” to a “10,” what would be required of you?

I will leave you with a final question: If you were being a true leader coach, what would you be doing differently in your interactions with your direct reports?

Read more posts about

Receive New Blog Posts by Email


Leave a Comment