Leading teams through coaching
A traditional leader will be guiding the team by “telling”, while a coaching leader will lead by asking good purposeful Socratic questions. Instead of focusing on command and control and using the team for serving the leader’s objectives, a coaching leader will develop and grow the team to serve the greater organizational purpose through a process of open discussions, mutual support and trust, and engaging the team members through responsibility and accountability.
A questioning and coaching leader uses questions to encourage people to see things from a different perspective through reframing, gets everyone engaged in important issues and creates several advantages in the team, such as –
- Getting the team members aligned around clear values and goals
- Members realize they must work together to be successful in reaching goals and thus a shared commitment is achieved
- Willingness to work with and help others in solving problems and developing strategies
- Improved learning environment and improved morale
The strategic questioning approach can also be successfully applied in planning and setting objectives as well as in performance appraisals.
In setting objectives, the typical questions will be – what do we need to accomplish, what do you think is realistic, how do you plan to achieve this, what resources and help do you need? The goal setting will need to follow the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) approach.
Performance appraisals are mostly dreaded by both the supervisor and the employee. However if the questioning style is adopted, an appraisal meeting will be constructive, productive and enjoyable too. A set of questions could be like – what is your goal, what was your performance, what is the gap, what caused the gap and how to close the gap, what will you do more, what will you stop doing and what will you start doing.
Questions made to your team members will help them not only in thinking for themselves but also will train them in asking questions as well and become individuals who generate a questioning insight as a way of life.
Strategic questioning in business planning
In a learning organization, the leaders use the technique of strategic questions for business planning and to review vision and strategy of the organization. Here the questions go beyond the inner circles of the organization and reach out to other stakeholders in the business. Review of vision and strategy is a way to adapting to the changing environment and hence the need to learn from the external resources and partners of the organization. The key stakeholders to interact and learn from through good questions are the customers, both existing and potential, vendors and business partners, and the community in which the business operates. The fresh perspective brought in by them helps to review and revise business direction and strategy.
Carrying out formal research with target customers has been a well established practice in business. Apart from that every interaction with this group can be taken as an exercise to learn more about them and to find out what they need now and what they might need in future, why they do business with the organization and with the competition, what is required to be done differently etc.
Learning from vendors and partners is less common in businesses. Business success depends on the support of business partners and for this purpose, a learning and questioning approach will provide the advantages of greater bonding with these partners, gaining knowledge of changes in the industry, in market intelligence, in technology, in new supply chain initiatives, in business processes and so on. Some of the key questions to ask at the outset both internally and to the partners, will be what learning is possible mutually and what is the relationship vision of the partnership.
Once the business has gained a thorough understanding of the current reality from all its stakeholders, it has created the context for reviewing its vision and strategy. Some of the high level questions the leader will need to ask will be
- What business are we in? How can we make a difference to the market place? These will assess the vision and mission of the organization.
- What will the future look like if things go according to plan?
- What do we stand for? This will evaluate the values.
- What do we want our team to focus on now? These are the goals.
Review of strategy requires the courage to periodically question the collective wisdom of the organization. The leader will need to question basic assumptions, strategy, structures, business processes et al. However, when a change in direction or processes become necessary, the level of adaptability and the ability to embrace change will depend on the extent of questioning and learning culture embedded in the organization and the pace of change will be determined accordingly.
My experience and learning
I have been leading all along a life of advising, telling and directing at work and at home too. From childhood I was good at mathematics and at problem solving. As I moved on from school to university and on to my professional life, this trait of mine helped me move along smoothly. Any issue at work, I will quickly work out several options to handle the situation and make a decision and move forward. When I became responsible for a team, I as the leader of the team, felt it was my responsibility to find solutions to challenges faced by us on our work front and executed my responsibilities with due care. This helped me to get recognized at work and move up the corporate ladder.
I had a problem at my home front though. When I found solutions to any challenges we faced on the home front, my wife would disagree with me. We keep arguing with each other and not see each other’s point of view. Finally I would be taking a back seat and letting her go according to her thoughts. I had the same issue with my kids too – they never learnt anything from me, never listened to my advice and never liked my “telling” method of talking to them.
Once I started on my coach training, I started to learn new things – values, life purpose, underlying beliefs, self-awareness, listening, questioning, reframing and many other coaching related attributes, skills and perspectives. My world view started shifting with growing self awareness.
I am now finding a different approach to living by welcoming a lifestyle of curiosity. Adopting this new life style is making me act very differently from what I used to earlier. There is a change I am already noticing in me and slowly my style at work and at home and in fact in all interactions with other people is undergoing a change. I have now become aware of, among other things, the questioning and coaching style of living. Using active listening and strategic questioning, I am now looking at creating new opportunities at work and at home, pursuing a learning approach to all interactions and create new horizons for myself, my family and my professional space.
“The Thinker’s Guide to The Art of Socratic Questioning” – by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder
“Leading with Questions” – by Michael Marquardt