Leading when you don’t have the answers

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” Sir John Whitmore – Coaching for Performance

As a manager there will be times when a team member asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. But, do not fear! You really don’t need to know all the answers.

So rather than a curt ‘how should I know’ or making something up on the spot, try using the four step GROW model and some powerful coaching questions to draw out a solution from the individual.

  1. Goal

Start by helping the coachee clarify what it is they need to achieve. Get them to build up a picture of what success looks, sounds and feels like. This will help keep the focus of the coaching on a relevant and achievable goal.

Questions you might use at this stage:

  • Tell me more about the situation/approach?
  • Where do you want to be with this issue?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What is your objective?
  • What will success look, feel, sound like?
  • How will you know when you have achieved success?

  1. Reality

The next stage is to unpick the reality of the situation in relation to the goal. You can do this by helping the coachee reflect and learn from past experiences.

Questions you might use at this stage:

  • Where are you now in relation to your objectives?
  • What actions have you taken?
  • What was the effect?
  • What was the impact on the other people involved?
  • What have you learnt from the previous actions?
  • What is stopping you reaching your objective?
  • What is helping you achieve success?

  1. Options

The third stage is to encourage the coachee to consider as many possible alternative courses of action. As a coach you’ll need to create a safe environment for the coachee to express their ideas freely and without judgement.

Questions you might use at this stage:

  • What options do you have to resolve this issue?
  • Who or what support do you need?
  • What obstacles will you have to overcome>
  • How will you overcome the obstacles?

  1. Will

Once all the options have been explored, the next stage is to move the discussion towards a decision. As coach you’ll be encouraging the coachee to identify their next steps and plan how they will get there.

Questions you might use at this stage:

  • What will you do next?
  • When will you do it?
  • What support do you need?

When not to use coaching

Of course there will be times when a bit of spontaneous coaching is not appropriate, for example:

  • In formal disciplinary situations
  • In crisis situations that call for more directive leadership
  • If the individual really doesn’t want to be coached

How about you – what coaching questions do you find most powerful?