When I was a child, my father would often give me advice and coaching. Sometimes I would take his advice and it would yield great results. More often I didn’t take his advice because as much as he was well intended, I didn’t think he really knew the answer for my specific situation. I also didn’t want to be told what to do and how to do it. Rather I wanted to figure it out for myself. This would frustrate my dad. He would often tell me he wanted me to learn from his mistakes so that I didn’t make the same ones. He would argue, ‘Isn’t that just easier for you?”
Many years later, I think that it would have been so much easier to just listen to my dad and not make some of the same mistakes he made. But then, I really wouldn’t have learned what I needed to solve problems on my own and grow my skills to become a confident and independent adult.
The coach’s challenge is like my dad’s. When employees are given advice, or the ‘right’ solution, it isn’t their own. And when it’s not your own, you find that your understanding of it may be superficial and making the changes to implement it often fall short.
In the article, The Neuroscience of Leadership by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, neuroscience supports the notion that you need to have your own self-insights to make changes and develop your skills. In fact, when you solve a problem on your own your brain actually triggers an increase in adrenaline. That’s why we get excited when we can figure things out on our own. The challenge for many leaders is to empower the employee because we know that greater insights, deeper understanding and lasting change result from self-discovery. This is particularly difficult when a leader feels they have better insight or simply know the answer. Sometimes it feels like it’s just easier and more efficient to give employees the answer rather than letting them struggle to gain their own insights. How then does a leader change their style to help their employees get these great outcomes?
Ask Powerful Questions
Asking what, how, or tell me more questions are an effective way to get the employee to explore their current situation and understand what has been considered and what is challenging. Be careful with ‘why’ questions as they may put the person on the defensive and derail a productive conversation. Together, explore the options for moving forward that will work best for the employee and align with the company goals.
Silence is Golden
It’s hard to have someone gain their own insights if the leader is the one talking. Take a step back and listen deeply to what the employee is say and not saying. You can only do this if you stay quiet, both verbally and in your head. Then you will be able to respond in a way to help the employee figure things out for himself and the best way to move forward.
Pause for Reflection
Ask the employee for their insights towards the end of a coaching conversation. This gives the person the opportunity to reflect on the conversation and articulate key takeaways. Resist the urge to jump in and offer your perception of his takeaways. This moment of reflection is critical for the employee to gain greater insight into the situation and then translate that insight into clear action and lasting change.
Many coaches have great intentions with sharing their advice and ‘right’ solutions with their employees. Listening more, using powerful questions and pausing for reflection will lead to empowered, energized employees that make great strides in their development and overall contributions to your team.