I find it fascinating that so often when I’m talking with senior leaders they talk about wanting to win the hearts and minds of their people and engage the talent they know they have in the workforce. But very frequently the ways in which organisations work seem almost designed to work against this. Telling people what to do does not cause them to become more proactive, more self-reliant and nor does it give them an understanding of what they’ve got within them.
This is where I find myself quite often talking about the value of a different kind of approach and if you wanted to give it a label I would call it ‘The Coach Approach’. Why the coach approach? Because fundamentally coaching is built on the assumption that people have skills and talents that need to be drawn out. The way you draw them out is not by trying to shove things down people’s throats. You get the best from people when they are able to access it themselves. This is a process of internal exploration and then action.
Here’s an example – I have just come back from working with a whole bunch of people who are very talented leaders, in all sorts of different specialisms, but the reason I was speaking at their conference is that they wanted to be better able to have the sorts of client conversations which they know make a difference to clients and also illuminate what it is that clients really want. This is how they wanted to add value as they knew there was something that they weren’t doing.
The Art of Good Questioning
In the course of our time together I was looking at one of the critical skills that indeed comprise the coach approach which is knowing how to ask good questions. The art of good questioning involves partly timing because you can ask the same question at different moments and get wildly different responses. It also involves understanding that you don’t know and are, therefore, engaged in an act of genuine enquiry and you are provoking thought. Whenever you ask a question what you do is you send a person on an internal search in terms of the neuroscience of it all.
There is an interesting aspect even in the word ‘question’. Look at what else is contained in that one word, there is another word. Very often I will say to people the really important question is ‘what is the quest in your question’? Where are you directing attention? What is the journey you are sending people on when you ask them a question because when you do so that is exactly what you do, you send them on an internal search.
Stop Telling and Start Listening
This is just one of a whole bunch of coaching skills which seem to me to be far too important to be left exclusively in the hands of people who are called Professional Coaches. This is why I have spent a lot of time making these skills available in a learnable format to people who frankly have very little interest in being coaches but who really do want to know how to adopt a coach approach – which means stop telling, start listening. Start a different kind of working relationship with people. That relationship will be characterised – not by a loss of authority on the contrary you can have your own clear position but the way you engage with people will enable them to do more than they have done before. It is almost like designing an alliance where the two of you, three of you or even a team begin to have a way of engaging what is naturally there as latent talent. It seems to me that this is a skill pretty much anyone would benefit from knowing how to utilise.
I have taught this to people all over the world and they come from very different backgrounds but have one thing in common – they want to draw on the talent they know is there.
This is why I would say that coaching skills is something that pretty much anybody would benefit from learning about and becoming proficient in. They are skills and skills require practice. You can read a book but you can’t get it form a book. That’s why we have a coaching programme and funnily enough, most of the people who come on the coaching programme are interested in applying it across the board in their life as a whole.