100% of the people I work with include “developing others” in their coaching goals. As I shared last week, the coaching leadership style is all about developing people by investing in them now for the future. It requires that the manager let go of control.

The workplace reality looks something like this: more and more, employees want to co-create their environment, they want to find meaning in their work and they want to develop and grow along the way. When the coaching leadership style is used, at the right time, it is a valuable tool in accomplishing this.

The most recent Deloitte Human Capital Trends of 2016 published that “the number of employees supervised by each first-line manager is increasing, to more than 10 among US companies...This broad span of control demands leaders who are skilled coaches, not strictly supervisors—leaders with the ability to attract, inspire, and retain great people, not just make the numbers.” This means managers need to make the most of their one-on-one conversations and people.

As Google evolved its strategy for developing better bosses, they realized, to their surprise, that having deeper expertise than your direct reports wasn’t what made a manager great. Instead they uncovered that it’s actually about developing managers who help others solve problems by asking questions, not dictating answers. “Personally, I believe this culture is an insight about the human condition. People look for meaning in their work. People want to know what’s happening in their environment. People want to have some ability to shape that environment,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP of People Operations.

People can’t find meaning, shape their environment and do their best work if they don’t have a say in the matter.  And you can only hear from others if you’re asking good questions. Culture is the sum of the parts, and a major component of culture is how people interact with one another. 

Good “coaching-like” questions should:

  1. Create the opportunity for dialogue. Everything starts with a conversation, and you can’t have a very rich dialogue with “yes” or “no” questions. Instead, ask open-ended that give the person on the other side an opportunity to respond more thoughtfully and be more actively involved in the conversation.
  2. Expand or challenge someone’s thinking. “What” and “how” questions allow someone to think more deeply and expand their awareness of possible solutions/outcomes. “Why” questions can inadvertently sound accusatory. My personal favorite “how” question is: On a scale of 1-10, how important is this to you?
  3. Inspire someone to own and take action. To empower is to hand over power, and trust that the person on the other side of the table will find their way to a good solution. With the right questions, you will create a sense of commitment and accountability, and therefore ownership.
  4. Be open-minded. Nothing is more dangerous than asking a question “you already know the answer to” or don’t want the answer to. Empty questions that don’t come from a genuine place of caring are transparent. Instead, be open to the answers, ideas and even emotions than may come up when you ask a question from an open-minded place.
  5. Develop a connection: How you frame a question says a lot about how you relate to people. A manager who robotically asks each person on the team “How are you?” is not creating connection. Take this opportunity to make it more personal and strengthen your relationship by engaging the person in a more meaningful conversation that shows you care.

The Deloitte study also shows that new titles such as “Chief Employee Listening Officer” are emerging. This is an interesting addition to the C-suite, in my opinion.

But, one person can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for listening and responding to the organization. Wouldn’t it make sense to empower (and enable) those who engage most closely with front-line employees to ask good questions and be good listeners?

I say, let’s promote every manager to CELO!

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