questions for a destination

Roundabout SignageHave you ever had a conversation with someone that went around and around in circles and ended without any resolution, next steps, or action plan? That might be OK for some informal or ideological discussions, but a coaching relationship helps the client make progress towards a goal.

An effective coaching process begins with the client (or spouse/child/co-worker/friend) choosing a personal or professional goal, and then discussing options and barriers with the help of open and probing questions from the coach. Once the client chooses their best option, it is time to move the conversation towards action steps.

I recently learned three types of questions that the coach can ask to help the client move forward: Direct, Revealing, and Ownership.

DIRECT Questions:

Good direct questions focus and challenge, but do not threaten or judge. They are neutral and inquire without using guilt. They avoid the word “why”. They ask for action or decision and point toward a positive outcome.

“What will you do?” “Do you want to focus on XXX or on XXXX?”
“What investigation have you done?”
“What might you need to do to ensure a good decision?”

REVEALING Questions:

Revealing questions help people “get out of the box” when they feel stuck and unable to move forward. They help the client discover the limitations (physical limitations, finances, fear, priorities, lack of information, etc) they view as unchangeable obstacles and look for creative alternatives.

“What if you thought outside of the normal structure?”
“Who else could help you?” “What could you do differently to free up new resources?” “What if you had four extra hours in your day?”
“If that difficult person wasn’t there, what would you do?

Another option is to help them imagine a new situation without the barrier… “What if you had all the time you needed, what would you do?” “If you couldn’t fail, what would you try?” “How would your perfect job look?”

OWNERSHIP Questions:

Ownership questions help people avoid blaming others and take responsibility for the action. They help take away justification, excuses, and passivity, and instead lead to growth opportunities.

“What might you have done that contributed to the conflict?”
“How can you make things better?” “What might you do differently?”
“Which step do you want to take?” “How do you want to do that?”

A last helpful tip or two… When your client talks about action steps, help them be as specific as possible and include timelines.

Usually, in a coaching situation, the coach is simply helping the client recall or use their own existing information and knowledge. If, as the coach, you feel the situation requires your input, ask permission before you speak!

“Can I challenge you on that?”
“Would you be open to hearing a different perspective?”

These questions can help us get out off of the roundabout and on to our destination!

Which of these questions might be most helpful to you?

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Many of these questions and more can be found in Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. I highly recommend the book!

a coaching process you can use

I get my love of sports from my Mom. Actually my Dad also encouraged my individual sports (tennis, skiing, running), but Mom is the one who loves all team sports and watches the games faithfully. I even like sports movies, especially those where the underdog team or player rallies to a miraculous win at the end.

Coach - courtesy of morgueFile free photosIn all of those movies and in real life, the person who inspires, comes alongside, and brings out the player’s best for the unexpected, against-all-odds, fist-pumping success is the coach. A great coach knows the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and they believe that the player can grow and improve. The coach cannot do the hard work for the player, but they can help the player move forward towards their dream.

Even outside of sports, coaching is important. Parenting older children, mentoring friends, and professional job situations all offer opportunities to coach.In our organization we use a coaching process that is transformational for coaching situations. Instead of trying to fix the problem or give advice, this simple process guides a conversation from the present “Where are you now?” to the future “Where do you want to be?”

The first step is to focus the conversation. Ask the person being coached, “What can I help you with today?” or “What would be most helpful for you to discuss today?” or “What is the focus of our appointment?” It may take a while for them to distill their needs or thoughts into a simple answer, but this is important since there is no way to work intentionally on an unclear goal.

Second, explore options. Brainstorm without a commitment to any particular idea at this time. The coach asks, “How do you think you could…?” “What are ways you might…?” “Where could you find…?” “Who could help you with…?”

Third, plan next steps. After brainstorming many options, it is time for the person to choose the best option that surfaced. It is important to ensure that the chosen option is SMART: specific • measureable • achievable • relevant • timely (due date). Help your coachee plan carefully and completely by asking them, “And then…? And then…?”

A crucial, but often neglected, fourth step is to address the obstacles. Good coaches deal with reality. Assuming a simple, clear, unchallenged path to the goal is naive. A really big obstacle might return the conversation to the second step to explore other options; the discussion does not have to be linear.

Last, take time to allow the coachee to review and close. The coach should not do the review. Make sure the person being coached can summarize what they have decided to do and who will hold them accountable for their plan.

A first conversations using this process may feel stiff or unnatural – probably because we usually do a lot more talking and a lot less question-asking – but it will feel more comfortable with practice. You will like the results. As you coach, praying, observing, and listening well are key.

… And don’t forget to celebrate and encourage the “wins”! A good coach knows how to do the vocal-cord-stressing, all-body gyrating, don’t-cares-who-sees-me victory dance along with their players!

Who could you take through this coaching process? How can you improve your coaching skills?

This printable card can help you remember this coaching process. __________________________________

missional women button

(It is a privilege for me to write as a contributor for Missional WomenThis post was originally published there.)

working against the tide

Do you ever feel like you are “swimming up-stream”? Have you sensed that the door you hold open has a strong tension-spring that will slam it shut as soon as you let go? Have you ever felt like your hard work and passions are like a sand castle that is completely washed away when the tide comes in?

I have been struggling a lot with those kind of feelings the last few weeks. In a past leadership position, I gave my best effort to bring about a culture change that I believed in strongly. Some of what we encouraged was team leadership, women valued and developed equally with the men, integrity in character and finances, and a willingness to honestly evaluate results.

Together with my husband, I tried to lead by example; brought in resources and training; honored those co-workers who demonstrated the values we cherished, and celebrated the environment and growth that resulted from our efforts. It was hard work, there was resistance and personal attack, and we paid a price physically, emotionally, and relationally.

We were also incredibly blessed with encouragement and support from partners, mentors, and the thrill of changed lives. At the time, I thought the dream of healthy relationships and a healthy organization was worth the pain.

Sadly, today looking back on that time, I question more… so much of what we “built” is gone. Many things are different; environment, people, results… I wonder, did my hard work really accomplish anything? Was the up-hill climb good for only short-term, superficial change?

I have learned a lot about working as a leader. Now I need to learn about letting go. I need to live with the tension between desire for a legacy… and contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.

Do you have any tips for me? What do you do when your hard work is washed away?

running for my life

runner free digital photo Sura Nualpradid
My birthday caused me to consider how to best invest the next years of my life. Often good physical health contributes to reaching other dreams, so I got motivated to lose some weight and increase my running routine.

In the process, I learned about reaching other life goals!

  • Getting better takes time – I am not a patient person; I prefer instant results. However, I am learning to persevere and trust the process. There were weeks when I wouldn’t lose one pound, and I wanted to give up, but if I kept doing the right things, I would finally see the weight drop. I often want to quit in other areas of life also – habits I can’t break, changes I can’t make, or relationships that aren’t working like I want. If I stop trying, I guarantee not getting better… but if I give it time, doing the right things, I just might get results!
  • Getting better takes hard work – I have never really liked to run. For me it is just plain discipline. Some days I feel pretty good; some days my feet feel like lead. Often, if I push through the first discomforts, I start to feel better and go farther than I initially thought I could. No great athlete achieves success without consistent practice, lots of sweat, and often pain. Neither will I get better – personally or professionally – without intentional effort. I have found that an honest evaluation (like a 360) and a personal development plan, accompanied by a coach or mentor, can help me grow and improve. 
  • Plan for hard days and easy days – A training plan allows for “pushing for distance” days and rest days. Going all-out every day will inevitably lead to injury and burnout. Life is similar. There are days when I have to give more than I have to handle a conflict, help someone, or get something done on time, and there are days when I need to rest. Without the rest, I don’t have the energy needed for the tough times, and I am resentful and tired. When I am regularly refreshed and rejuvenated, I have the stamina and strength to give the extra effort – even when it’s hard.
  • I am unique –  My husband can eat a lot more calories than I can and still lose weight. But, I am not my husband, and my weight-loss plan is not the same as his. Nor is my exercise plan the same as his… nor is my life plan the same as his! I need to stop comparing – and complaining(!) – and figure out what will work for me. Often I want to “cut and paste” someone else’s gifts or abilities or experience into my life, but God has a singular, individual plan for me. 
  • Getting better gets harder – Many people can run one mile or lose a few pounds. On the other hand, keeping weight off or running a marathon is much more challenging. As much I as would like to have earned an easy road due to past accomplishments, that is not how real life works. Instead, the older I am, the more responsibility I get, the more leadership I take on… the harder it is to get better! There is no “downhill” slide. It will always be “uphill”, and I don’t want that truth to surprise or discourage me.
What are principles that help you reach your goals?