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Coaching Questions To Ask Your Direct Reports

(February 27, 2023 Newsletter)

Last week a client expressed trepidation about asking direct reports how she can help because it inevitably leads to more work for her.

I heard two assumptions in that statement: that “help = taking something off of the person’s plate” and “being a good manager = saying yes to whatever requests are made of me.”

Maybe those mental models exist for you too. If you’re in a leadership position, chances are that you like helping people - and like making people happy. But there are many ways of helping your colleagues that don’t involve doing things for them and being a good manager shouldn’t mean saying yes to every request.

Help without taking on more…

One of the most significant responsibilities of people leadership is providing direction and guidance without micromanaging or under-leading. It’s also one of the greatest challenges.

To my great delight, Deborah Grayson Reigel published a new HBR article last week, “Coaching a Direct Report Who Asks for Your Help” in which she offers ten fantastic questions that each achieve different goals (read the article for the full list). Here’s an example from the article:

Your direct report: “I need to be more consistent at logging my sales calls, so that I have better data for follow-up. Can you help me?”

You: “That sounds like a smart idea. I’m happy to help. What do you think could help you be more consistent?”

Instead of laying out your action plan to their questions, why not ask them to consider what they need. This way, they will think independently and work out an action plan for themselves.

And if you have trouble saying no…

If the person asks for help on something you can’t do, you can try one of these phrases:

  • “Why don’t you try it first and let me know if you get stuck.”

  • “I’m sure you can get that going on your own. What’s the one piece of it where I might be able to be most helpful?”

  • “Who else on the team can be a resource on that first, before I step in?”

Try out the questions from the HBR article or these phrases and let me know how they go.


The Coaching Corner

This is a new feature in the newsletter where I’ll share a practical tidbit about using coaching skills at work.

Listening for… identity markers

Example: “I’m an empath.”

My ears perk up when I hear someone make a declarative statement that starts with “I’m an…” (cue up the “I am good at dealing with people” scene from “Office Space).

When this person describes themselves as An Empth, some associations come to mind for me, but it’s worth probing further.

Some follow up questions could be:

  • What do you mean by “empath”?

  • Why is it important to identify as an empath?

  • In what ways does being an empath serve your goal here?

  • In what ways does being an empath get in your way?”

  • What else are you that could be relevant to serving this goal?

This week’s listen


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