The Critical Moment In Any Business Coaching Conversation –Don’t Miss It!

Those year-end performance reviews have been written.  The goal-setting discussions should have occurred.  If you are a people-leader and conducted these important discussions with your direct reports in the last few months, you deserved the big exhale, time off, or any other way that you decompressed and/or celebrated.

But your job is far from over!  In fact, it’s just starting, because before you come to the next round of performance reviews and goal-setting sessions (I know, that’s a long way off, but it will be here before you know it), you need to coach and provide feedback on the progress of your direct report’s performance. There are a lot of models and processes on how to coach your direct reports.  Throughout the years, what used to be leaders barking orders and expecting direct reports to fall in line and comply has now turned into coaching.  The models and processes all are designed to promote a dialog, a give-and-take, between coach and coachee.

Why then does it appear as though the dominant style of many coaches is to tell their direct reports what to do?  Way too often, direct reports aren’t asked for their input.  Many times, they are told not only what to do, but how to do it.

The Effects of Too Much Telling

In part, because a coach tells their direct reports what to do, many direct reports are too dependent on the coach to be the ultimate problem-solver.  Consequently, some direct reports may feel that they can’t contribute their brainpower, and that their ideas will not even receive any consideration.   They, in turn, are not growing and developing their skills, and that limits their opportunities for advancing to positions of greater responsibility.

This is a dangerous place for coach and coachee to be.  All the modern generation of workers, especially the Millennials, and Generation Z, want to have a voice in what they do and how they do it.  Not being allowed to have that voice can lead to a quick downward spiral of demotivation, disengagement, and a permanent disassociation from the organization.

Telling Does Have Its Place

There are times when a coach needs to tell a direct report what to do:

The direct report is new to the organization, department, or task and needs guidance and direction in order to have a chance of succeeding

  • The direct report cannot come up with any ideas on how to accomplish a task
  • There is absolutely no leeway on how a task or project gets done. It has to be done a certain way due to quality assurance, regulations, or legal reasons
  • There is an extreme emergency and action is needed fast

What a Coach Needs To Do In the Majority of Situations

In the overwhelming majority of situations, the main approach of the coach should be to….. Ask Questions.

Asking questions is the most important skill a coach can use.  A coach today does not, and should not be expected to, have all the right answers.  He or she should have the right questions that ultimately lead the direct report to come up with their own solutions.  Only when a direct report cannot come up with an idea should the coach offer a possible solution, and even then, the coach should ask what the direct report thinks about it.

A direct report coming up with their own solutions is better than the coach providing them.  The direct report will have more of a vested interest, more ownership, and can be held more accountable for the success of that solution.  They will be more motivated and engaged to do their best.

The Best Way for a Coach to Ask Questions

It may seem too simplistic, but asking questions is not easy for everyone.  Some of us on the planet are more “tell-oriented” in the way we communicate.  Tell-oriented people may think they are asking a question, but it comes out inadvertently as telling, suggesting, or leading someone to a certain answer the tell-oriented person wants to hear.

I know you have heard about asking Open-Ended Questions.  These are questions that begin with “What”….. Or “How”…… the two best ways to start off a question.  You are trying to get the other person to think.  You may have to ask more specific, and even closed-ended questions to get the person to elaborate on their answer, or to think more deeply.

If you are a tell-oriented person, you have a tendency to be a tell-oriented coach.  You must use open-ended questions and resist that urge to tell ‘em what to do.  Keep your direct reports motivated, engaged, developed, producing, and on your team by doing more asking and less telling!

Need help asking the right questions? Please feel free to contact me at

Walter Hoff