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Norm Bilsbury, Ph.D. | Champaign, IL

Are you coaching or rescuing?

Leaders--If your people were interviewed behind closed doors what might they say about your Coaching Style? Would they say you listened and asked questions? Or would they say you were a person that liked to “fix” things? Would it be said that you prefer to develop heroes, or that you like to be the hero?

And while none of these responses could be described as necessarily negative, it’s critical that we understand the consequences each response carries with it. Why?

These questions are important because they have a lot to do with whether or not you are building a company or team that can work effectively in your absence. No doubt giving answers to problems feels good in the moment, and assures us that we are good leaders. However, if we consistently engage in this type of behavior, we deprive our people of the development experiences they need to do a role when we are not present.

If they learn that the only time problems are solved is when we are around, then we create a dependency structure that won’t work in our absence. This type of structure makes it hard to get away from the office, enjoy our families, and have peace of mind that our business is sustained when our energy and focus is elsewhere.

Ask - Don't Tell.

The next time someone comes to you with a problem, here’s a different way to handle it. Every time you are tempted to “tell” someone what they should do, why not turn that statement into a question? Here are three reasons its better to lead with questions, rather answers.

1. Questions are Empowering.

When you ask a question, you send a message to your team member that you are interested in hearing their thoughts. If it is sincere, it is a very empowering moment for them. Team members know that the boss cares because s/he takes the time to ask.

2. You will learn important new information, validate existing information, or rule out misleading information.

Title or not, as a leader when you are isolated from an upward flow of information you begin to lose your potency. To keep this from happening, it is important to nurture a constant flow of upward communication. Upward communication is akin to blood in a healthy body that flows back to the heart. If the heart stops receiving the blood that should flow back after it has been sent out, the body would quickly die. The same is true for effective leadership. If the leader lives in a state where all they do is send out downward communication and never receive any feedback, their efficacy will also quickly fade.

3.It’s a LARP--you are “pulse-testing” the current state of an employee’s development.

When you ask your employees questions, it’s a LARP. That is, it’s a “Live Action Role Play”. The beauty of these moments is that you get to see how your employees are engaging in their current roles, as well as gauge how they conduct themselves against a future role you know they aspire to. Quite simply, LARP can help you gauge an employee’s readiness or fit for a new role. It’s a great way to lead and manage because you constantly see what someone does well, not so well, where they struggle, and what developmental needs they have.

As you can see, you win all around as a leader when you “ask-don’t tell”. It’s a great secret that is out there for anyone to use, but most people overlook it because they prefer to show people they know, rather then listening, learning, and leading with questions.

All the best,

Norm Bilsbury, Ph.D

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