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Great Coaching Questions: What Are They and When Do You Use Them?

Posted by Julia Stewart

The important this is to not stop questioning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What scientists and coaches have in common is curiosity and a need to ask the right questions. Wrong questions elicit the wrong data, or insights, goals, actions, results. 

The right questions literally create new realities, when asked at the right times.

View a list of 101 Incredible Coaching Questions here.

View an infographic on how and when to ask coaching questions here.

Ask your own questions. Join the next live Q&A class:

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Topics: coaching questions, curiosity

ICF International Coaching Week: Top 10 Lessons from Thomas Leonard

Posted by Julia Stewart

 

Thomas LeonardIn honor of the ICF's International Coaching Week, I'm sharing the Top Ten Lessons I learned from Thomas Leonard, founder of the ICF (and IAC) and Father of Professional Coaching. Studying with Thomas in the years before his passing in 2003, changed my life in profound ways. Perhaps you'll share how Thomas shaped your life in the Comments section, below.

Top Ten Lessons Learned From Thomas Leonard:

1. When changing career paths, it's always nice to have a role model: Thomas, philosopher and entrepreneur, has been one of my favorites (I'll mention a few more in this post). One of my original realizations, upon joining his first coaching school and receiving the famous 16-pound-box-of written-materials, was: "This guy is a lot like me, only he's much better at it. I can really learn from him!" 

Today, Thomas is practically worshiped by his former clients and students, so I want to emphasize that he was a lot better at it than I, but in discovering his content creation strategies (finer points below), I was able to make the shift from, 'smart person with lots of potential', to massive content creator, myself.

Thomas, an incredibly prolific creative genius, was frequently asked, 'When do you sleep?'. No one believed him when he replied, 'Eight hours every night.' I knew I was hitting my stride when people started asking me when I slept and I replied, 'Eight hours every night,' and knew it was actually true.

2. How to handle 'Too Many Ideas' syndrome: Creative entrepreneurs commonly suffer from an overabundance of ideas. The classic advice on how to handle that is: finish one project before you start another. That's creative suicide for some of us. Thomas' advice? To paraphrase: If you have eleven ideas, start all eleven and see which ones people respond to. Then finish those. The result? You're there with the right idea at the right time for the right people. Instead of arbitrarily amputating your own creativity, you've collaborated with your clients to create what they really want. Magic!

3. To focus those 11 ideas even faster: crowdsource them. Ask your best customers what they most need from you now and how they'd like it delivered, even how much they want to pay for them (Remember t's R&D Team?). Result? You learn faster what your market wants and can develop those ideas beyond what everyone else is doing. Caveat: you need to be extremely good at asking the right questions to make full use of this one.

4. To get more done faster: do what you want, when you want to do it. Nobody believes this one, either...until they try it. The first time I experimented with it, I went back to a week-old to-do list after doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it for several days. Funny thing: I discovered I'd finished most of the items on the list, without even thinking about it and I never felt 'busy'. How does that work? Instead of forcing myself to do stuff on schedule, I did it when the mood struck. Suddenly, TV time became business-building time (if I felt like it) and late-night downtime sometimes became creative inspiration sessions. So long as I got my 8 hours, I was able to crank out way more work without ever feeling overworked (See item #1 above).

5. To stop blaming people: Get that people are doing their very best even when they clearly aren't. This one hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. How could I have ever been unaware of this (paradoxical) fact? Once you get this, you're free of the the 'blame and be blamed' game. The challenge is to get it even when you're mad at someone. But that's the evolutionary part, as well as the secret to greatness.

6. To get that everything is perfect: Ask yourself, if everything is perfect, what's perfect about this? Spiritual teachers tell us it's all perfect. That's nice, but it sure doesn't seem that way sometimes. The trick is not to force yourself to believe this (or pretend that you do), but to stay curious. Okay. So what's perfect about this (crummy) situation? It's is not a Pollyanna exercise. If you look deeply enough, you'll find a perfection that heals the whole problem, if you allow it.

7. The ultimate coaching tool: is Values. Actually, Thomas never said this, that I know of, but he's the one who taught me about the value of Values. And it has become increasingly clear to me over the years. Tony Robbins has his Needs and Donald Clifton has his Strengths, but Values are what matter most to people and they are the key to what matters most in coaching. Apparently both the ICF and IAC agree, because their certifiers look for values-based coaching conversations in the coaches they certify.

8. The relationship between coaching clients and what they really want: is they've often never even met. That's why Thomas put so much emphasis on his Clarifiers, a list of 15 this-or-that questions that quickly uncover what matters most right now. Some coaches think the ICF violates this, because ICF certifiers look for evidence that the coach, not only asks what the client wants at the start of a coaching session, but that s/he checks in at least twice to see that they are on track, relying on the client to articulate what it. The IAC style is a bit different; they look for evidence that the coach is uncovering what the client really wants, even if that takes up most of the session. Contrary to popular belief, these two styles of coaching aren't mutually exclusive. When we take a both/and approach and integrate these two approaches, we upgrade coaching and enter the zone of master coaching.

9. What coaches really do during coaching: is design environments that empower success. It's not enough to foster insights in the client. It's also not enough to plan client actions. Our real job is to co-design the client's environment to evolve them into the person they need to be to reach their goals. That's a big difference.

10. What marketing is really for: helping people learn. No, it's not about squeezing your list through a funnel. When people learn from you, they become more. That's irresistably attractive. No more squeezing. Help your followers learn the next thing they need to know, or help them become the next iteration of themselves. People want to be more. Both your marketing and your sales should help them with that. Some of them will pay you for a highly personalized version of it.

BONUS: To write content that is easy, fast and fun: Write in Thomas' favorite format, the Top Ten List.

Got a favorite lesson learned from Thomas? I'd love to hear it.

Want to get to know Thomas better? Sign up for the FREE 28 Principles of Attraction ecourse, based on his own notes for his signature personal development program:

Get Thomas' 28 Principles of Attraction Free eCourse

 

Topics: Coach 100, coaching clients, ICF, Coach Certification, Thomas Leonard, Tony Robbins, ENVIRONMENT, curiosity, master coach, IAC

Coaching Tip: Is the Truth Really a Question?

Posted by Julia Stewart

As a coach, you probably believe in powerful questions. And as TEDEd speaker, Michael Stevens, demonstrates, powerful questions make all the difference in teaching, too. In fact, questions such as, "How much does a video weigh?" and "What color is a mirror?" have made his Vsauce channel popular with millions. They foster curiosity, because most folks have never considered these quirky questions before.

Is there such a thing as unanswerable questions? Stevens can answer the above questions with science. But coaches are simply looking for clarity, inspiration and action, rather than actual answers. Or are we? 

Sometimes an unanswerable question expands awareness. When tapping into a client's Higher Self, for instance, I'll ask, "What color is it?" and "Where is it located?", questions that don't make logical sense, because the Higher Self isn't a physcial thing. But my clients step into the present moment, along with their intuition, as they attempt to answer my questions and that's the whole point.

My favorite quirky question is "Is the truth really a question?" Coaches intuitively feel the answer is, "Yes." But it can't be, because "Yes." isn't a question. So the logical answer is, "No." But this question invites us to step out of linear logic into a broader, deeper way of thinking.

So then what's the answer? My favorite answer is the coach-y, "What do you think?" Which is all I care about. But the most concise answer is, "Yes?" Which embodies the perfect attitude to bring to a coaching session: open, positive, curious and affirmative.

Watch Michael Stevens for more on quirky questions:


 

Topics: Coaching, coach, coaching questions, curiosity, TED, Coaching Tip

How are Coaches Responding to the Major Problems of the World?

Posted by Julia Stewart

A few days ago, I asked the Ad Hoc Committee at School of Coaching Mastery, If You Had Only 4 Years to Save the World, How Would You Coach Differently?

What prompted my question was a video put out by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, featuring Ervin Laszlo that suggests that the year, 2012, is Earth's tipping point. Watch the video here.

The answers that came back reflect the awareness and responsibility that professional coaches are known for - and they vary widely. Do you see yourself in any of the following?

"Those of us with the awareness and capacity to teach others about our personal capabilities with energy, how to get in touch with our higher self, why its important, and how to consciously live are being drawn to work with others. To bring awareness through curiosity, assist people in becoming more enlightened, this is my purpose. This is why I do what I do." - Jane Saylor, Life Coach

Do you bring awareness through curiosity? Do you assist people to become more enlightened? What is your purpose?

"I think the biggest change I'd make is in who I am being (or rather not being) as a coach. I'd step up and step out in a much bigger way and share of myself fully, rather than continuing to "hide" in more training, more groups, more ... excuses." - Wendy Foster, Your Joy Coach

Who are you being as a coach? Do you need to step out in a bigger way? Are you hiding behind any excuses?

"Despite the ages - old human desire to prophesy disaster, I choose to do little differently. Why? Because the world will allow me to be far more effective and rewarded by loving one or few unconditionally than trying to influence the masses." - Andrea Feinberg, M.B.A.

Do you love others unconditionally? Are you certain enough of your purpose that you know what you're doing today is exactly what you would do, even if you only had a few years left? If not, what needs to change, now?

Thanks again to the three coaches who agreed to let me quote them for this post. You've all inspired me.

Topics: curiosity, Ervin Laszlo

Virginia Tech: A Dumb Question Might Have Saved Lives

Posted by Julia Stewart

An article in this morning's New York Times about the massacre earlier this week at Virginia Tech reminded me of the importance of not making assumptions.

The article explains that the reason campus investigators didn't lock down VT campus after the first two shootings - a move that might have saved thirty lives - is that they were following up on a lead that suggested the murderer was the boyfriend of one of the victims.

It was a good lead, or so it seemed. However, during a two-hour pause in the shootings, while investigators interrogated the boyfriend, the real murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, was chaining doors and taking other measures in preparation for more carnage.

The investigators made a reasonable choice. As Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said, “There was certainly no evidence or no reason to think that there was anyone else at that particular point in time.”

And I'm not here to blame or criticize them. They did the best they could. The outcome however, is far from what anyone would have wanted.

You want smart professionals doing a job like this. Most of us try to be smart professionals in our own jobs. Nobody wants to be stupid. But a couple of dumb questions might have made an enormous difference here.

As quoted in the Times, authorities “made the right decisions based on the best information that they had available at the time.” That's what all of us do, right?

Professors and students on campus had been nervous about the killer's behavior long before he acted, but as one professor said, "little could be done."

These are smart reasonable people and they all did their best. But when reasonable choices don't get the job done, that's sometimes a sign that it's time to think differently.

And of course, it's easy to to point out what they should have done, now that we have the benefit of hindsight, but there IS a way to think differently in the moment and that's worth talking about, because it can lead to very different outcomes.

It's to refuse to make assumptions, which can sometimes lead us to unreasonable, even dumb questions like, "What if the boyfriend isn't the killer?" or "What if there is a second shooter?"

Again, I'm not here to criticize anyone. This blog is written for coaches and I'm just using this story as a powerful example of what can happen when people do the right, reasonable thing and still get awful results. It's why it's the coach's job to ask dumb questions - seriously.

I'm defining a dumb question as one that is so obvious, people may not be asking it.

I'm definitely NOT suggesting that the investigators should have hired a coach to help them. And I'm also not suggesting that they didn't think about those questions. I bet they did. But for whatever reason, at the time, those questions didn't seem reasonable. I bet they wished they'd taken them more seriously.

My heart goes out to the investigators. They are probably suffering as much as anyone over this tragedy, so I apologize if this article sounds at all harsh.

At every stage of human life, people learn to make assumptions about situations and people as a tool for survival. As human life has gotten more complex and is moving far faster though, this tool has become a big liability in many cases.

For instance, if you live in a tribal culture, making assumptions about people based on their appearance, makes sense. People who look different from members of your tribe may very well be less trustworthy towards you than members of your own group. In a pluralistic society though, judgements based on appearance can be tragic. This is an assumption that has used up its usefulness.

However, reasonable people still make assumptions everyday. I'm assuming right now, that when I click "publish", this article will be uploaded to my blog. Otherwise, I might as well quit typing.

That's why it's the coach's job to listen for assumptions that may pose problems to our clients and challenge them.

"Are we certain we have the right suspect?"

The answer to a question like this is often, "No, but..." It's our job to take a hard look at those "buts". They're the cause for the assumptions!

In this situation, the considerations may have included: "We're pretty sure we have the right guy and shutting down the campus would inconvenience a lot of people and cost a lot of money and we'll be criticized if we take action and are wrong."

That last reason is huge and it stops most of us from taking courageous action. These reasons don't hold up though, if we compare them to human lives in danger.

That's why it's so important for coaches to catch our clients when they are making fateful assumptions and be willing to ask the right question and follow up with more questions until a real solution is found. Anything less can be awful.

It's also our job not to let our clients wriggle out of looking at the truth. Fear of being wrong is powerful and most people won't look at it without someone there who gently, firmly and without judgment, holds them to it. That's when clients make huge shifts. It's also when coaches earn their fees.

Our clients don't want to be wrong and often they can't afford to look stupid. It's our job to risk being wrong, unreasonable and even dumb for their benefit. We can't be too curious, too doubtful nor too nosy. That's our job.

Sometimes the smartest thing we can do is to be dumb.

Copyright, Julia Stewart, 2007

Topics: Coaching, Coaches, coaching clients, curiosity, questions

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