Tug of war

What’s your first reaction when the person you’re coaching brings a problem or question to you? If you’re like me, you want to leap from your chair and give them the answer.

Why? I can’t speak for you, but I like helping people and I like feeling smart. If I can give a good answer to a tough problem that’s stumped my smart client, I can get both boosts to my ego. Lucky me…

There’s only one little problem: in my hurry to stroke my ego (or move on to a different task), I’ve probably taken ownership for the problem and stolen the opportunity for longer-term learning from my client.

I have enough problems of my own – I really don’t need theirs. And the whole reason to coach someone else is to help them become more self-sufficient, so stealing learning opportunities is a little counter-productive.

There is a better way: ask questions. One of my former bosses, Gayle Kirkeby, was really good at this. I would bring tough challenges to her – about clients, colleagues, business partners. She would ask me (open-ended, curious) questions like:

  • What do you think is the real issue here?
  • What principles apply?
  • What options do you have? What are the upsides and downsides of each?
  • Play those options forward: how happy are you with the likely outcomes?

Usually, our conversations ended with my having more clarity about the situation and more conviction about the direction I should go. And most importantly (as the person being coached) , I still owned the problems and my own solutions. Oh, and I also learned – and I guess that was the whole point.

What other insight-provoking questions would you add?