Would you like to improve your team’s performance and engagement? Can you imagine working with an incredible team who feel empowered to do their best work? You can adopt a coaching leadership style that use questions to empower every person in the team, including you. 

What is coaching leadership: It’s a style of leadership that is characterised by collaboration, support and guidance. It involves and facilitates people’s engagement by drawing out, understanding, and empathising with their specific and individual motivations. 

Coaching leadership aims to bring the best out in teams by guiding them through goals and challenges. The ultimate purpose of this leadership style is to develop people and create a continuous learning environment.

Why are questions important in a coaching leadership style?

This leadership style centres around asking questions instead of giving people the answers. The main idea is to allow people the opportunity to do their own thinking and develop their own solutions. 

Unfortunately, this is where the challenge starts for many managers or leaders due to the nature of the business world. We continually live in a high pressure “get it done” economy, where committing more time and effort can be a challenging decision. 

However, the new world of work we live in makes it more necessary than ever to move away from authoritarian leadership styles.

New generations are looking for companies and leaders that will allow them to have autonomy and flexibility over their work. In addition, remote working won’t succeed if the manager or leader wants to control and micromanage their team members. 

The importance of questions

coaching leadership style

As we mentioned above, in a coaching leadership style, the biggest tool is asking questions. So, here is why questions are so important and how they can benefit your team and organisation. 

Because of the way our brains are wired, when we hear a question, we can’t avoid thinking about the answer. This reflex is called “instinctive elaboration”

In addition, when we’re asked a question, our brain is stimulated and releases serotonin, which causes the brain to relax and makes it easier to find answers. 

The opposite happens when we are given feedback. When we receive feedback, our brains automatically move to survival mode or “fight or flight” mode. 

With this, we’re not implying that we shouldn’t give feedback. On the contrary, we believe offering constant and constructive feedback is essential for the success of teams and organisations. But it’s important to consider how we give feedback. 

Furthermore, questions that probe us to disclose our opinions increase neural activity in the areas of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. This means that by asking someone’s opinions, you’re making them happier. 

coaching leadershipAnother great thing about questions is that they can influence our future behaviours. This is called the “mere measurement effect”

According to research, asking people about their intentions impacts their future behaviours.

For example, a study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology showed that asking people whether they’re going to vote in an upcoming election increases their likelihood of voting by 25%. Another study from 2008 showed an increase of 8.6% of blood donation after asking people about their intention of donating blood. 

All the information above can have significant implications in the workplace. Because of the nature of our brains, by asking questions, we can increase creativity, engagement and accountability in our teams. 

5 tips for practising coaching leadership within your team

We believe in leading by example and walking the talk. So these are the questions that we use within our team. In our experience, they help team engagement, satisfaction and accountability, which in turn help our overall performance. 

Resist the temptation of telling people what to do

As mentioned above, when we tell people what to do, we rob them of the possibility to do their own thinking. So, instead, ask questions that allow them to find their own answers and solutions. 

The Optimist Questions:

  • What would you do?
  • What do you think about it?
  • How would you approach the situation?
  • How can I support you? 

Encourage learning and development 

The coaching leadership style aims to create an environment that focuses on learning and development. So, you must always be keeping these types of questions alive in the conversation. 

The Optimist Questions:

  • How do you see yourself in a few months, in a year?
  • What would you like to do in the future?
  • What else would you like to learn about?
  • What else would you like to be involved in?
  • How can I/we help? 

Boost accountability

In order to increase accountability, people need to feel responsible and being part of the decision making process. 

The Optimist Questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • What are you planning to accomplish?
  • What are your plans or goals for this week/month?
  • How can I help you?
  • What do you need from me/us?

Build trust and connections 

coaching leadershipIf you really want to make coaching leadership work for you and your team, trust is non-negotiable. To build trust, you need to create deeper connections. Genuinely caring about people’s lives, goals, expectations, and motivations is an essential part of this leadership style. 

The Optimist Questions:

  • How do you feel about this? (When giving a new challenge)
  • How do you find everything so far?
  • What would you like to do more or less of?
  • Are you enjoying the process?
  • What are your goals in the near and far future?
  • How can I help you achieve your goals?

Use questions as feedback

To avoid the natural adverse reaction that our brains have to feedback, we can use questions to incentivise self-reflection. This way, instead of giving your feedback straightaway, you offer a chance for people to reflect on their actions, whether they are positive or negative. 

The Optimist Questions:

  • What do you think about your performance?
  • How did you find the results?
  • How did you find the tasks or project?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How can I help you with this?
  • What do you need?
  • What would allow you to do it differently? 

Coaching Leadership to empower yourself

In the same way, we can use questions to empower others; we should use them to empower ourselves too. 

Actually, it’s important to work on yourself before trying coaching leadership in others. Otherwise, you will probably just end up falling into old behaviours at the first sign of difficulty. 

An example of this is an exercise that Herminia does with their executive class. They are given a scenario where they have two options; one of them is using coaching leadership.  

At the beginning of the exercise, 9 out of 10 decide that they want to help the individual develop and do better. However, when they have to play the coaching role, the outcome is different. 

The reason is that most of them had a preconceived idea of the response they wanted to hear. Their approach then is trying and formulate the questions to obtain this response. When they don’t, they start feeling frustrated and rapidly go back to “tell and sell” mode instead of the “ask and listen” that coaching leadership requires. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself

  • What is your WHY or motivation? What are your drivers?
  • What are your goals? What would you like to accomplish?
  • What success looks like for you?
  • What’s more important for you? What do you value the most?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would you like to change or improve about yourself?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Are you happy with your behaviours? What behaviours would you like to change?

These questions are just a starting point for self-awareness. To be able to coach others, you need to be self-aware first. 

Developing self-awareness and working on yourself cannot be done in a day. It requires time and effort; the good thing is that you don’t need to do it by yourself. 

According to a study by The Institute of Coaching, 70% of individuals who receive coaching benefited from improved work performance, relationships and more effective communication skills. They also reported that a massive 86% of companies feel that they recouped the investment they made into coaching plus more on top.  

As Optimists, we believe that all effort made towards improving oneself is an investment with long term benefits for both the individual and the team. 

Our executive coaching programmes are bespoke and orientated towards maximising your potential in order to achieve your top performance. 

The Optimist View…

coaching leadershipA great leader focuses on serving others, and coaching leadership is an excellent tool for it. Nonetheless, there are many leadership styles, and a great leader should use a variety of them depending on the circumstances.

To us, the critical part of leadership is to be authentic. 

At Optimist Performance, we have made our mission to help individuals achieve their true potential. Our executive coaching enables you to become the best version of yourself, and we will be with you along the journey. 

Learn more about our coaching programmes here or get in touch with us for a free consultation and start your journey today. 

What do you think of coaching leadership? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.