June 15, 2023
By Dave Bushy, PCC
My profession depends on questions. Powerful questions which elicit curiosity. Deep questions that invite thought. And meaningful questions that help explore ideas to learn about our own individual journeys and development.
Before embarking on my calling as a coach, I served as a U.S. Army officer, manager and senior executive. Each of those opportunities helped inform my presence and approach with my clients during every session and engagement. Why? Because the best leaders I knew took the time to ask me questions that invited learning. Even well before I studied neuroscience, I came to intuitively know that approaching others with curiosity unlocked part of people’s brains and cemented learning in ways that merely being “told” could not.
I work with some leaders whose bosses genuinely want them to learn. The bosses pay for coaching and support the engagements. Yet often in facilitated meetings I hold with the client, the bosses enthusiastically “tell” the client what they “should” do to be more successful. It is a habit learned from others and emulated by so many in the executive suites of companies throughout the world. And it is often far from useful. In my own experience as a senior executive I learned that it doesn’t work. I was privileged to lead smart, experienced professionals – and I was under the illusion that I needed to answer every question they asked in employee meetings. After all, I was their leader and that was my job, wasn’t it? But I learned there was a better way. Would it not have been better to answer questions with inquiry like:
Simple questions from which more ideas can flow, and more questions being asked.
It should come as no surprise that one of the most celebrated teachers in all of history – Socrates – based his approach on inquiry. His famous dialogues with pupils are documented as an exploration of ideas through the simple – and liberating – concept of a guided and challenging series of questions and resultant dialogue with others.
I’ve sometimes observed leaders who work through complex issues with others who then join a larger session. They try to take the helm in the meeting, fielding all of the questions and providing every answer. It can become a bit like a game of pinball with everyone knocking the leader around through the machine.
Yet would it not be better for the leader to ask those who helped him craft a strategy or plan to join in with him and to ask questions about it? Something like:
The boss can liberate himself and open the team up to more ownership and understanding of any plan by asking simple questions. He or she might well have most or all of the answers, but eliciting the answers from others performs magic in the team, as they make it a part of their own experience and their own understanding. And their learning.
Why do you think I ask questions?
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). He is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.