Coaching Others to Look In

As I continue to share with others about my leadership philosophy and passion, I build on my focus in “Coaching Up Leaders”.  I have given numerous presentations on this topic based on my experiences and learning over the years.  I’ve found that, regardless of the position you hold and vocation you are in, you always have the potential to coach others.

One effective strategy in my coaching model is: Coaching In.  Of the four strategies I talk about, this one gets the most interest and questions.  The art of Coaching In is for a leader to help another person to self reflect in order to arrive at his/her own understanding, idea, answer, or solution through questioning techniques.

While there are times when providing the answer may be necessary, Coaching In is the equivalent to the proverbial notion of teaching someone to fish in order for them to eat for a lifetime.  It is the ultimate strategy in unlocking the inner understanding for someone to leap their own learning forward.

I had a professor in college that seemed to have a knack for asking a well-timed, thought-provoking question that made me pause, reflect, and answer my own question.  One day, I had approached him with a huge dilemma.  I was playing on a club tennis team at the time, and an upcoming match was scheduled on the same day as a test in class later that week.  By the club guidelines, I could have been excused from class, but fall break was after that, so it would have postponed the test for me another week.  I wasn’t sure whether I should miss class or the match, so I approached him after class seeking his advice.

Deep down I knew what I wanted to do, but I wanted him to either agree with what I wanted to do or tell me it was okay.  At the time, I hated when he wouldn’t just give me an answer – he always seemed to have a coy smile and patient tone in his voice.  Now, I’ve come to enjoy his demeanor and strive to emulate his approach.

Instead of answering my question on which option I should take, he asked a series of questions that helped me to arrive at my own decision.  This had a much more powerful effect and allowed for me to be in charge of my own decision.

Sometimes, people already “know” the answer; they just need time to reflect and be reminded of what they may already know to be true.

While knowing when to ask a reflective question, and asking the right question is an art and skill of their own, it is helpful to have a list of questions in your hip pocket to reference at times and reflect on prior to coaching moments with others.  There’s nothing magic in the questions themselves, but taking the time to internalize the questions in what they are trying to elicit can help you to become a more effective coach.

10 Reflective Questions to Promote Coaching In

  1. How will this decision move you closer to your goals?
  2. How does this decision align to your core values and beliefs?
  3. What information/data have you gathered already and what else might you still need in order to make an informed decision?
  4. What are the other pros and cons you may have missed?
  5. How is this decision pushing you out of your comfort zone?
  6. What’s really preventing you from making a decision?
  7. What’s the worst thing that could happen, and are you willing to take a risk for it?
  8. If you don’t make a decision, what are the potential ramifications?
  9. What are the other options you may not have considered?
  10. What are you looking for in my advice?

In order to maximize the effectiveness of the Coaching In strategy, coaches need to keep in mind a few, simple reminders when using this strategy:

  • Pausing and listening intently is necessary – and silence is golden;
  • Don’t feel you need to answer every question back or justify yourself – this is about engaging the person to self-reflect;
  • Stay clear of questions that invoke a “yes/no” response – push them to answer “why”;
  • Be careful not to sound or be judgmental;
  • The goal is for the person to end up answering their own question in order to realize a true coaching relationship.

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