Proven Employee Coaching Questions That Gain Superior Results

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For many reasons described in “Successful Women Leaders Coach Their Employees”, leaders who use The Coach Approach to Leadership achieve significantly better results than leaders who favor traditional management approaches. Research shows that leaders who ask their employees coaching questions gain superior performance results. Studies also indicate that most women leaders are hardwired and socially conditioned to become successful Leader Coaches.

Coaching creates a collaborative, creative approach that empowers and motivates employees. They become much more engaged and loyal than employees directed by a leader who directs or micromanages what must be done. A leader’s well-worded coaching question signals to her employees, “I don’t know all the answers, but I do know you have something to contribute.” Well-crafted questions invite employees to participate in problem-solving while validating the strengths of all parties. All of these factors create buy-in for action.

Once my clients who are enrolled in Women’s Leadership Coaching programs grasp the power of employee coaching, they’re eager to discover the information I’m sharing with you in this article. Since everything you’re reading is based on research and proven success strategies, you’ll be able to immediately use this information.

What Types of Employee Coaching Questions Are Most Effective?

Closed Questions vs. Open Questions

Closed questions can be answered with a simple “Yes”, “No” or “I don’t know”. In the examples below, notice how open questions can stimulate possibility thinking and closed questions can prematurely end a conversation.

Examples of closed questions:

  • Could there be another way to approach this problem?
  • Isn’t that risky?
  • Were you upset when he turned down your proposal?
  • Is it realistic for you to commit to this?

Examples of open questions:

  • What most catches your attention about this issue?
  • What ideas do you have to increase your leadership effectiveness even more?
  • How would your business change if you did that?
  • What do you like about your performance during the last few months?
  • What would you prefer to do differently next time?
  • What are some ways you can achieve your goals more easily?
  • Tell me more.
  • How do you think that happened?
  • What do you think caused this situation?
  • What are some other options?

Closed questions focus the employee’s attention on the area or potential solution the Leader Coach has in mind, which may not be the ideal. Most coach trainers (and I am one) encourage new coaches to avoid closed questions because they can limit discussion at a time you want to brainstorm possibilities with a curious, open mind. They can also cause an employee to feel like they’re being interrogated. When that happens, the employee becomes defensive or shuts down. All parties lose when this happens. The employee is unhappy and somewhat distrustful of the process and the Leader Coach stifled her ability to gain useful problem-solving information, collaboration and buy-in.

The most successful employee coaches begin by asking broad, open questions that help explore issues without offering the leader’s personal biases, judgments, interpretations or theories. Questions that begin with “What,” “How” and “Tell me more about” are expansive in nature, encouraging thoughtful, open-ended exploration.

Even the most experienced leaders occasionally catch themselves asking questions that limit discussion, creativity and brainstorming. When you notice you unintentionally trap yourself with a closed question, rephrase the question with “What,” “How” or “Tell me more” at the front of your query.

Be especially careful with “Why” questions because they can make the employee defensive. Consider substitutions like, “What made that seem like a good choice at the time?” There is always a creative, more effective alternative than the accusatory, “Why did you do that?” E.g., “What caused you to view the situation in that light?” or “What led you to think that approach would work?”

Presupposition Questions

Employee coaching is effective because the coaching process stimulates positive changes in employee thinking that lead to positive behavior change. This almost never happens when an employer says, “You must change!” In fact, once you understand human nature and neuroscience, you know this can actually inhibit positive change. The truth is that we change when:

  • We want to. The change is our idea. It’s not a demand.
  • We think change is possible.
  • We have ideas regarding how to change, one step at a time.
  • We feel safe adopting a new core identity.
  • We accept ourselves as we are even though we know we can improve.
  • We have a support system that accepts us whether we do or don’t change.

Effective coaching questions are designed to facilitate change by encouraging people to consider a different thinking pattern and interpret the world in new ways. For example, when an employee feels defeated or pessimistic, a question about “What’s working well for you?” can cause the employee to identify their existing strengths. Well-designed questions regarding problematic issues can cause the employee to explore opportunities for improvement so they can expand their motivation to make a positive change.

All of us are unaware of many of our ingrained habits. One purpose of coaching is to create greater self-awareness of our habitual, unconscious responses, behaviors and ways of viewing the world. Particularly when we’re pessimistic about the possibility of creating a positive change, a presupposition question can prod the employee to shift their anticipation about a potential change.

This is based on sound science about stimulating a positive emotional response while the subconscious mind imagines a new reality that will compete with their existing world view. It’s why I often suggest that my Women’s Leadership Coaching clients use this strategy with employees who are fearful of a change or having trouble imagining that positive results can emerge from a change. The technique creates a mind state in which the employee experiences the preferred reality in their mind before they actually experience it.

Coaching Your Employees to Success: A Tough Job Women Leaders Love

No matter what questions the female leader asks, she must manage her own mindset. Notice when you’re tempted to ask judgmental questions or gain a response that can confirm your inherent bias. Reset your attitude. When we don’t approve of someone else’s behavior, it’s often true that their actions remind us of something we disapprove in ourselves. Sometimes we need to take a break and make a commitment to see the best in the other person. My favorite questions to ask myself include:

  • What is this person showing me about myself that I’d rather not see?
  • Am I being nonjudgmental and genuinely curious or am I just trying to confirm my bias about this person?
  • What is the best intention of this person whose behavior I find annoying?
  • How can I be a better listener and observer in this situation?

After gaining answers to questions like these, I can return to the situation with a fresh perspective and ask the employee a clarifying question like, “Please help me understand this situation better so I can be the most helpful.” Even though coaching employees can be challenging, the rewards are endless, including ever-expanded self-awareness and benefits for your leadership abilities.

Women’s Leadership Coaching

Leadership Coaching is a proven way to help you learn and practice the most effective coaching questions so you can elevate the performance of both individual employees and your total team. The average ROI (return on investment) of leadership coaching is over 500%. Click here to complete a short application so I can contact you for a complimentary 20-minute consultation. If we decide we’re a good fit as client and coach, we’ll discuss a coaching agreement. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and being of assistance.

© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here now to discover hundreds of additional Women’s Leadership solutions.


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About the Author

Doris Helge

© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. at www.WomensLeadershipTips.com Doris Helge, Ph.D., MCC is a Certified Master Executive Leadership Coach and author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job.” Click here now to sign up for your complimentary Leadership Coaching Consultation.

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