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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

That’s a Good Question

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Last week, I had coffee at the San Francisco airport with a new friend of mine, Ed Batista. Ed is a leadership coach who does most of his work in the MBA program at Stanford. We met each other online (no, not through Match.com but through our mutual friend, leadership blogger Wally Bock ). When I found out I was going to be in the Bay Area, I got in touch with Ed to see if we could meet up face to face.

I’m really glad we did. Ed is an exceedingly good coach and just a fun guy to hang out with. One of the things we talked about was the questions we ask as coaches. Before our meeting, I did a little bit of homework on Ed by poking around on his website and blog. One of the things that really stood out for me was his “Introduction to Our Coaching Engagement” section that he asks his new clients to read before their first meeting with Ed. It’s full of excellent questions like:

  • How do you deal with disappointment or failure? How do you deal with success?
  • What one thing could you do immediately that would make the greatest difference in your current situation?
  • What would make your work so compelling that you would do it without compensation?

For me, and, I suspect, most coaches, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is when I ask a client a question and they pause and say, “That’s a good question.” It’s at those moments that I know I’m adding some value. Ed’s questions are like that. They add value because they make you stop and think.

The good questions are the ones that disrupt the flow of everyday thinking and cause someone to step back and really look at what’s going on or what they’d like to have going on. They’re the ones that, as Harvard’s Ron Heifetz might say, get you off the dance floor and onto the balcony.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional coach to ask good questions. If you’re interested in asking them, I can offer three ideas that can help:

1. Have a commitment to helping your colleagues get off the dance floor occasionally to stop, think and reflect on what’s going on.

2. Ask open ended, non-agenda driven questions that get them up on the balcony.

3. Be quiet and listen to their answers. Allow them to talk.

What about you? What difference has a good question made to you? What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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