One of the most important skills today’s leader can have is asking powerful questions. The intention is to capitalize on and mobilize the strengths of your employees. Asking the right kind of questions also serves another purpose. In times of rapid change when complexity and uncertainty are the order of the day, you can’t know or control everything that goes on. By using powerful questions you will learn a lot, and in the process you will be coaching your staff to higher levels of performance. Unfortunately the questions most dental leaders ask do little more than show off their own knowledge. Your job is to be a facilitator, not an oracle. You also don’t want to be like an attorney who peppers the “witness” with rapid-fire questions until the “truth” is revealed.
Consider a study conducted in a large, progressive global pharmaceutical company where the set of competencies for leadership were compared with the competencies of a coach. The result? 75% of the competencies were the same. To be an effective leader, you must be an effective coach. That means asking good questions.
I have found that one of the biggest complaints of employees is that their bosses do a poor job of providing coaching. From a boss’s perspective, coaching seems like another task in an already too-busy schedule. But employees rarely want detailed instructions about how to do their work. What they DO want is ongoing communication about the “big picture” - the outcome goal(s), how their work is contributing to the mission of the practice, and suggestions on how they can improve.
The good news is that coaching does not need to be a time-consuming process. Employees do best with consistent input to make sure they are heading in the right direction. Frequent and brief exchanges are more important and effective than long interactions or meetings. This enables employees to ask for help or clarification when they need it.
In order to be an effective coach you need to challenge your certainty. You may think you know why Tammy is often late to the morning huddle, but your beliefs and assumptions are skewed by personal biases that may be incorrect. You see her as disorganized. Open your mind to the possibility that there are complexities about which you are unaware. Be willing to enter a state of “not knowing.” You may think she’s inattentive to time and lacking in punctuality, only to learn that she cares for an elderly parent in addition to two children while her husband is on military deployment.
Avoid asking “leading questions” - questions that prompt the desired answer. For example, if Front Office Mary doesn’t answer the phone as quickly as you expect, a leading question might be, “You weren’t paying attention to the phone ringing were you?” Although that seems to be true on the surface, the more important question is what is distracting Mary. When you have that information you can formulate an action plan to correct it.
Most powerful questions are open-ended and start with “What.” The intention is to get a conversation going. Let’s say that there’s tension between Hygienist Susie and Assistant Becky. A closed question would be: “Are you having problems with each other?” while an open-ended approach is: “Tell me what’s going on between the two of you.” In the former you’re likely to get a definitive “yes” and no additional information.
Good coaching questions are not meant to tell your employees what to do. Certainly there is a time and a reason to convey direct and factual information. Coaching is helping your employees discover the answers themselves. When they recognize issues through your supportive questioning they can set actionable goals and move past unproductive behaviors.
Here are some questions to add to your repertoire.
People generally know what is the right or appropriate thing to do. Your job is to draw out the answers. Great questions can bring great insight. They enable you to make important changes and take your practice to the next level. How can I help you to do that?
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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