We all know how to tell stories. Our brains are naturally wired that way. Therefore, the leaders we coach are all storytellers as well.
When we are learning to coach and helping others learn to coach, a lot of attention is paid to learning how to ask powerful questions. We are encouraged to moderate problem-solving and move toward deeper inquiry. This guidance is based on the premise that those being coached know a lot and can be very wise for themselves…especially if they are listened to fully and encouraged to look more deeply within themselves for new insight regarding the challenges they face. Well-placed, evocative questions can assist in deepening a person’s awareness and understanding of the story within which he or she is living. What might emerge as a result?
More of the story. Sometimes people can initially feel a bit shy about being stage-center. Thus, they tell the story of what they want to explore at a high level. Through questions, we can fill in some of the blank spaces. It’s like adding depth and dimension to a painting through adding new colors.
A figure-ground shift. In first telling, the person living in the story may not think to mentions some of the details. Yet, while these ‘details’ can sometimes be seemingly small, they can also be quite significant. Their addition can change everything. An example would be a leader who says he doesn’t think the people on his team trust him very much. He is new to his role and he wants to know how to engender trust. He mentions that everyone on the team really liked and trusted the previous leader who had been there for 20 years. “So what’s different now?” I ask. What emerges is that the previous leader did not leave by choice. Thus, team members are shocked and deeply upset…and wondering who amongst them might be next. That ‘significant detail’ changes everything.
In asking powerful questions to elicit more of the story we mine the depths of wisdom within. As such, together we explore areas such as:
Unexamined assumptions…as in “I never thought of that.”
History and grounding…as in “When I was first doing this work I learned….”
Concerns and fears…as in “I worry because I’m not sure how to….”
Feelings of inadequacy…as in “What if people discover I’m not….”
Unconscious parts of the story…as in “Until now I didn’t really realize….”
Where there are gaps in the story…as in “I honestly don’t know.”
Deeper knowing seated in the heart and values…as in “This really matters to me because….”
Vision and aspiration…as in “I feel really passionate about….”
Trusted love and support…as in “I could ask….”
Possible next steps…as in “It occurs to me that I could try….”
A coach may ask great questions and listen well. Yet, the main event is with and within the person being coached. Thus, as truly interested coaches and good listeners, we are assisting the people in telling their stories…for themselves.