Great Managers “ASK” Powerful Questions

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Dear employees from my beginning days as a manager,

I’m sorry for yelling and telling. I didn’t know any better at the time.


SAM WALTON QUOTEAs a new manager, I dreaded giving feedback.  It felt like confrontation, so I'd avoid it until my frustration boiled over.  Then I’d “yell and tell” my employees  I wasn’t happy with their work. Sadly, business has bred managers who “yell and tell,” unable to connect to people as individuals.  This results in managers who under-deliver to their employees, teams, businesses, and their own careers.

Thankfully, I have learned the error of my ways and I’m going to let you in on my secret.

My philosophy is that Great Managers are truly coaches.  Great Managers:

  • Ask Powerful Questions, listen actively, and offer ob­servations to help employees develop and contrib­ute to the business.
  • Understand everyone has subjective views, and works to see the view of all employees.
  • Help people identify their aspirations and match goals with business needs.
  • Partner with em­ployees and teams helping them come to their own conclusions, take action, and reach their potential.

All of these areas are critical for great managers, but let’s first focus on the concept of Asking Powerful Questions.

What Are Powerful Questions?

Powerful Questions generate conversation.  They are:

  1. Open-ended.  No “yes or no” answers.
  2. Non-judgmental.  Your opinion isn’t involved.
  3. Provocative.  Require answers your employee may not have thought even existed.
  4. Respectful.  When employees feel appreciated, they’re likely to answer honestly.

Powerful Questions unleash potential that empowers individuals and teams. They do this by giving you:

  • A complete picture.
  • Insight into judgments and motivation for feelings, words, and physicality.
  • Knowledge of employee actions, decision-making processes, and results they hope to achieve.
  • Methods for enabling them on their own to recognize  how they can support, contribute, and deliver results.
  • Mutual trust by learning what’s important to employees so they can connect their goals to those of the business.

The Best Powerful Questions for Coaching Conversations

Here are some of my favorite Powerful Questions arranged ing  a framework I call ASK – Align Seek Kick-start:

ALIGN on the topic for the coaching conversation.

  • What is most important for you to talk about?
  • What are your desired results?
  • What are your actual results today, and how did they come to be?

SEEK to understand current realities.

  • What are your actual results today, and how did they come to be?
  • What’s really happening, and what are the judgments you added to your story?
  • What attitude or outlook do you have based on your judgments?

KICK-START shifts that drive action.

  • What actions will your current thinking (judgments, attitude, speech, or physicality) likely inspire?
  • If nothing were in your way, and you knew that everything would turn out well, what would you do?
  • May I offer you my observations?

And the “bonus question”:

  • What else?

When you’re coaching, the most important voice belongs to your employee.  This question gives them the chance to provide additional thoughts.  Just remember to pause after you ask it.  An awkward silence may  prompt the real issue waiting to be unlocked.

The Guiding Principles of Coaching Conversations

GUIDINGTo help you master the concept, here is a step-by-step roadmap to becoming a coach – and therefore a Great Manager. They apply to almost any business results you hope to achieve.

1. Establish the right time to talk.

Always ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” Employees may have time, but other matters may keep them from fully participating.  The right conversation at the wrong time always becomes the wrong conversation.

2. Ask Powerful Questions.

You know how I feel about this. Asking rather than telling lets people discover their own solutions, which helps employees effectively challenge themselves and generate productive ideas and performance.

3. Look, listen, and follow your intuition.

Words are only part of the story.  Gestures, tone of voice, emotions, and even what they are not saying can be equally important.  Pay attention to your intu­ition.

4. Check for understanding and clarity.

Never presume you understand everything you hear, and don’t rely solely on #3.  Summarize and share your hunches.  Ask if your conclusions are correct and clarify if needed.

5. Offer your observations and create shifts.

The ability to help employees shift their thinking is the differ­ence between “a conversation” and “a coaching conversation.”  Ask, “May I offer you my observations?”  Share what you observed about their judgments, attitude, speech, and body lan­guage.  Your insights may lead to shifts.

6. Brainstorm solutions and actions.

Brainstorming includes offering observations, sug­gestions, and support.  Remember that any suggestion is simply an idea, not a mandate.  Keep an open mind and stay flexible about what develops.

Remember, if you’re new to coaching, you’ll first need to shift from “telling” to having conversations and asking Power­ful Questions.  Your employees will need to make some shifts, too.  Some may still ask for advice and answers, but don’t just give it away. Ask the questions that help your employees reach their own conclusions. This new way of doing things may be a challenge, so let your team know how you’d like to involve them and what you expect of them.  Explain your role as a partner and coach – and show them how this will benefit the team and the business.

About Gary

Gary Magenta is committed to the development of leaders and managers. He does this based on a strong perspective that if leaders and managers want to change their businesses, they must start by changing how they engage their people. He is a Senior Vice President of Root Inc., a consulting company that helps organizations execute their strategy through people. During his 13 years at Root, Gary has partnered with CEOs and executive teams at Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations throughout North America and Europe with a holistic view of their businesses, their people, and the customers they serve.

Whatever the challenge, Gary brings over 25 years of business experience to every project, supported by a realistic outlook, a durable “street sense” for creating results, and a sense of humor that puts things into perspective. To order a copy of Gary’s book, The Un-Bossy Boss: 12 Powerful Questions to Make YOU a Great Manager, click here.

About the Author

Gary Magenta


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