In 400 B.C., Aristotle argued that a leader’s task is to create conditions under which all followers can realize their full human potential. Thus, leadership is not about the leader’s needs for wealth, power and prestige. Instead, the leader’s responsibility is to create an environment in which followers can develop the capabilities with which they were born.
Beverly Carmichael, when Vice President of People (Human Resources) at Southwest Airlines, put it this way: “Our definition of good leadership involves how many of your people you’ve mentored to promotions.” Thus, the question for those in leadership positions is, “How can you help each person on your team reach his or her true potential?”
The process of coaching involves more than dealing with performance problems. It involves keeping in touch with your direct reports and providing them with information and resources so that they can achieve higher and higher levels of success. Think about this—every interaction you have with a team member is a coaching opportunity. As you do so, one coaching skill you need to develop is the art of questioning. Asking great questions forces people to think and discover new alternatives. Your questions will bring out the realities of the situation you are facing and in the process help your direct reports grow in wisdom.
As a leader, you have a responsibility to expand the capabilities of your organization through coaching. You must spend time—one on one—with your direct reports. In a way, you are “pouring your life” into them. How much time do you spend thinking about how to help each one of your team members reach his or her true potential within the marketplace? How much time do you spend with your direct reports helping them improve their current performance and outlining plans that will help them continue to grow as individuals?
Consider having regular one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports and having ready questions such as:
- How’s it going?
- What’s gone right for you since our last one-on-one meeting?
- List your accomplishments since our last one-on-one meeting?
- What can I do to help you?
- Are there things I’m doing that are not helping you?
- Are there any issues with your peers? Any issues with me?
- What have you done since our last one-on-one to personally develop your direct reports?
- What have you done since our last one-on-one in regards to personal development?
- Do you have any continuous improvement ideas?
- Have you recognized any employees since our last one-on-one? If so, how did you go about doing this?
- List a company core value you have demonstrated since our last one-on-one meeting. Be specific.
- Any issues outside the workplace that we should discuss?
- Discuss your evaluation of progress toward your goals for this year.
- Is there anything you’d like to discuss that we did not discuss?
- Action Items:
- If I could do one thing for you between now and our next one-on-one meeting to help you and your team to be more successful, what would it be?
No one said that being a leader is easy. Being a coach is no picnic either—but it’s worth it.
Even Jesus used questions to teach his disciples and other followers. His aim was (and is) to teach spiritual truths.[i] Yet, there is another major difference in Jesus’ questioning when compared to that of a leader in the workplace. Jesus knew the answers. Leaders, however, don’t have all the answers. That is why leaders must truly listen to their staff and why one-on-one meetings are so important—so that the leader might build relationships, gain new insight and to encourage the development of full potential in others.
[i] See the May 14, 2010 Monday Morning Review titled “135 Questions Jesus Asked” at