I started exploring coaching as a leadership habit about ten years ago. I saw a need for mentoring and coaching of junior leaders in my team. Other senior leaders and I developed a coaching program for mid-level leaders. Coaching is about helping others achieve goals, so please take time to read the post on teaching others how to set goals.
Coaching is an important leadership skill because it allows those you lead to learn to solve their own problems. It takes longer in the beginning than giving advice or solving other people’s problems. Coaching reduces the number of problems you need to solve. Use coaching when counseling or mentoring others. Coaching others requires study and practice. Use this post as a starting point.
When I say coaching, I mean: the process of helping another discover things they know to help make betters decisions, solve problems, and grow as a person and leader. Amplify counseling & mentoring using coaching skills. Coaching identifies gaps in knowledge, skill and resources while creating motivation. Their learning sticks better when they are motivated to study. As a supervisor, when you do all the problem-solving, every problem becomes yours to solve. Instead, ask coaching questions when employees bring you problems.
As a mentor, it is easy to start offering advice in sessions. While this seems like the job of a mentor, it really is about helping the person discover things on their own. Coaching questions help identify what your protégé knows what they need to learn, and provides motivation to seek to acquire necessary skills and knowledge.
A few years ago, I took advantage of a leadership coaching exchange offered to members of a professional. It helped me understand how powerful coaching could be. My coach, Martha, was full of questions. Early in the process, I thanked her for her on issues. She always reminded me that I developed the answers to my problems; she simply facilitated the development. Martha may have been technically correct in her observation, however her skillful application of questions and bits of information were essential to that discovery.
Good coaching questions are important for the process. As I researched coaching questions, I found three types: starting questions, process questions, and achievement questions. Starting questions help you find out about the problem, why it is a problem, and if it is within the control of the person to fix it (hint: there are lots of ways to fix a problem and that person probably has an answer to fix it). Examples include:
- What’s on your mind?
- It seems you need a hand; what are you expecting from me?
- And what else? (forces them to talk about what they did not want or think to discuss).
Process questions can be used at different points in the coaching relationship. In the beginning you can use process questions to identify options the person already considered. Ask questions about how the process is working. Identify how well the results meet expectations. Other process questions include:
- What is one thing you could change right now that would make a difference? (gives them control).
- What is your biggest hang up (challenge, barricade, or similar word) about…?
- Whose support do you need to change things? (helps them identify allies).
- So you said…tell me all about that. (okay, not a question, but it requires the person to focus on issues).
Achievement questions are those that help the person have a better vision of success. These questions help the person begin with the end in mind, as Steven Covey discusses in his works. These questions help the person ensure they are solving the right problem.
A successful combination for almost any coaching situation is;
- So, what’s on your mind?
- I hear you saying…, tell me all about that.
- What is your biggest challenge with this? And what else?
- How can I help?
There are two measures to consider when evaluating success: process and effects. A coach helps establish measures for both. Process measurements deal with how well the person is applying the process, ensuring they understand the steps, and when to apply them; are they doing things the right way. Effects measurements determine if the process results in the desired outcome.
An example of process measurements is losing weight to improve overall fitness. You develop an eating and exercise plan. When you measure process, you compare how well your eating and exercise activities matches the plan. If you determine to eat 1800 low fat calories per day and alternate strength and aerobic exercise for 30 minutes for six days every week, you measure, or count, the number of calories and how many minutes of exercise you complete. Determine if you are meeting the steps in the process. Failing to accomplish the steps requires reviewing whether the process is possible to complete. This ensures you are doing things right
Effectiveness measures how well the process is working to achieve the desired outcome. If you determine you are eating less than 1800 low fat calories every day and completing the exercise, you would expect to see weight lose. When your behavior matches the progress steps, but outcome measurements are not being met, it generally means the process is flawed; you are not doing the right things. A great effectiveness measures coaching question is, “How will you know you achieved what you envision?”.
When coaching, rather than give advice, ask questions. Approach failures and successes in process and effectiveness from a position of curiosity. Avoid offering advice. Instead, ask good questions. Dig deeper by asking them to tell you more about the topic.
I find conducting a coaching session with food and beverage is ideal. I can ask a question and stuff my face. While I chew on the food, the other can chew on an answer to my question. Neither of us can speak until we are done chewing, and I can chew a long time! Often coaches ask a question, hear silence, and then offer an answer to the question. Allow the silence to last. It forces the other to speak.
Coaching is a useful leadership skill. Great coaches learn the skill well and practice all the time. Most leaders do not have time to be full time coaches, however learning to be more coach like improves outcomes. Learn to ask questions to start a coaching session, develop understanding, establish a process and measures for success, and determine what the other really needs from you. Asking who, what, and how questions requires the person to examine knowledge they possess to determine how best to solve their own problem. When used with counseling and mentoring, coaching becomes a powerful leadership skill that achieves great results.
Covey, S. (2004) 7 habits of highly effective people. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.
Elsey, E. (2021). 10 of my all-time coaching questions and why. The Coaching Tools Company. https://www.thecoachingtoolscompany.com/10-time-best-coaching-questions/. Retrieved 12/26/22
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St. Cyr, C. (2020). Leading others to success in four easy steps. Saint Cyr Training. https://saintcyrtraining.com/2020/03/31/leading-others-to-success-in-four-easy-steps/
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