In 2002, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin conducted a unique experiment at their organization – they removed all managers. It failed. But in the process, they realized how managers contributed to a company:  communicated strategy, helped employees prioritize projects, supported career development, and solved nitty-gritty issues.

Google followed it up with a thorough internal research that revealed an important managerial quality: coaching, or steady guidance to help people achieve their best. Joseph Weintarub and James Hunt, management professors, researched managers who coach and found a distinctive aspect in them – they believe in the value of coaching and make it a natural part of their toolkit.

Is coaching about offering advice or telling employees what to do? Michael Bungay Stanier, founder of Box of Crayons, has a refreshing take. His book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, explains how coaching doesn’t have to be boring, complicated, or just about teams listening to managers. It can be engaging and rewarding, if managers ask their people these seven questions:

  1. What’s on your mind? This opening question helps know the most pressing thing the employee is dealing with. You will know what the real focus of your conversation should be.
  2. And what else? It will force your associates to think deeper and boost the conversation, about what affects them.
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you? Useful when you want to get to the heart of the matter and make coaching more personalized.
  4. What do you want? Take the conversation deeper with this. Remove confusion and ease any negative emotions that might have crept into the session. Get everyone participating on the same page.
  5. How can I help? Get a clear picture about what you can do for employees without taking ownership away from them. Learn how you can move things forward.
  6. If you say yes to this what must you say no to? This strategic question helps the employee in decision making. It puts in perspective choices to be made.
  7. What was most valuable here for you? Ask this, since reflection is an extremely important aspect of learning. Neural connections are made when people reflect, not when they simply follow instructions.

The next time your team comes to you with problems, or you want to help them get better at what they do, ask these seven questions. And as Weintarub and Hunt say, remember, coaching is about them and not about you.

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