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Unlocking the Potential

Effective communication, coupled with coaching that is task orientated and driven by the desire to improve, are critical tasks for leaders at every level. To be an effective coach, we must develop our communication skills so that we engage our people in a safe and non-threatening manner. We need to understand who they are, what drives them, what their goals are and what skills they need in order to succeed.  In other words, we need to get to know our people.

man in a suit walking through a key-shaped hole

To enable us to learn more about the people we are leading - their behaviours, their goals, their skills and them as an individual - we must constantly be asking questions and engaging in meaningful conversations. These interactions are especially relevant in a coaching context. I started to think about the types of questions coaches should be asking and recalled an article by Kevin Eikenberry titled ‘Ten Great Coaching Questions’  Kevin lists what he believes are ten great coaching questions that every leader could use to better engage with and learn about their people.  While these are great questions, for them to be truly effective, you must ask them in an engaging and authentic manner and more importantly, be prepared to stop and listen to the answers.  The ten questions Eikenberry lists are:

  1. How are things going? Opens the conversation.
  2. What’s working well? Defines the good.
  3. Where are you stuck? Helps identify their challenges.
  4. Now what? Action orientated – define the next steps.
  5. How are you feeling? Understand their emotions.
  6. When will you try that? Action orientated – put the plans in motion.
  7. What’s your goal? Defines what success looks like.
  8. What’s in your way? Understand the barriers to success.
  9. What is exciting you? Understand their motivation.
  10. What is worrying you? Understand what are they afraid of.

Eikenberry goes on to identify two ‘bonus’ questions:

  1. How can I help? Shows that you are ready to help.
  2. What else? Can be used to get the person to share more.

These are all great questions and should be included in your coach’s toolkit.  But I regularly use five questions to drive my coaching conversations.  These are:

  1. How are you? Opens the conversation.
  2. What are you working on? Defines the specific task.
  3. How is that going? Defines the challenges, barriers, motivators and next steps.
  4. What can I do to help? Defines success, shows you care and extends the conversation.
  5. What can I do better as your leader? Shows that you value their view and are committed to being a better leader.

These questions stem from the Servant leader model and have served me well in many different situations. In reality, they are a combination of the 10 questions recommended by Eikenberry.

It really doesn’t matter what version of these (or other) questions you use, the important thing is that you ask questions that promote a meaningful and engaging conversation. It is our job to develop our people and to do this we must truly engage with them and coach them to their real potential.

As Tim Gallwey said ‘Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance’.  Are you unlocking your team’s potential?

Happy leading!

About the Author: Noel Reid

Noel Reid
Noel has over 30 years’ experience as an operational leader and trainer in the government, not for profit and commercial sectors. His service in the military helped shape his early leadership career and he has been able to transfer these lessons and skills to the business environment. He is a sought after executive coach who has assisted the development of senior executives in all sectors and industries. An experienced facilitator who has delivered high value training programs around the world, Noel is able to engage with the audience to maximise the learning outcomes. He holds an MBA (Leadership & Communication), an Associate Diploma of Human & Physical Resource Management, a Diploma of Training Design and Development and a Diploma of Vocational Education and Training.

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