Does it Really Need to Change?

A classic.

A classic.

Before I begin any new work, I ask myself 3 questions:

  • What is the problem that truly needs to be solved?
  • Is this a problem that has been solved before?
  • What really needs to change?

Change for progress is a good thing.  

Change without meaningful impact is busy work that adds unnecessary complexity, and stops us from doing work that matters.

The Right Question Solves Most Problems

Many of us start with solutions when presented with problems to solve.  I believe that starting with quality questions leads to more impactful outcomes.

Acting as a Consultant, Executive Coach and a Mentor –  I make a distinction between each role, and note which will best serve my client in the moment. 

I’ve broken the roles into 3 categories:

  • A Consultant delivers solutions
  • A Mentor delivers lessons
  • A Coach delivers insights

The common thread between all 3 is that the value I provide correlates with the quality of the questions I ask, and my listening skills.  Regardless of the situation, it is imperative to start from a place of curiosity vs knowing. 

As an illustration...

At the start of a formal coaching session, my client shared her frustration over the need to deliver a strategically-significant project in half the time originally agreed to.  Under immense pressure, she asked me a) "What would you do in my situation?" and b) "Can I just hire you for a month to help me deliver under this timeline?"  

As a Coach, my role is to help my clients find insights - not to be a Mentor and teach them, and not to be a Consultant and solve for them. A Coach asks questions, holding their clients fully capable to discover their own way forward.  

I paused our conversation to ask, "In this moment, do you want me to be a Coach, a Mentor or a Consultant?  I can't be all 3 at once."  My client chose: Coach.

We began with open-ended questions: "What is frustrating you in this instance? How have you dealt with a similar situation in the past? What story are you telling yourself about this decision to shorten the delivery time? What do you need to discuss with the person who made this decision to shorted the timeline? ..."   An hour later, it became evident that there were several courses of action for my client to take, herself - without my "help."

As it turned out, the Project Sponsor had seen my client as a top-performer who thrived on constraints.  Their decision to shorten the delivery time had been delivered via email - the two individuals had never even spoken.  The next day, after a rich conversation, my client and her sponsor had everything they needed (including a reasonable delivery time) - and my client also has the confidence to approach future frustrations in a more purposeful way.

NOTE: Without the context and insight from our coaching session (i.e. questions), my mentorship and consulting responses at the start of our conversation would NOT have addressed the root cause of the problem.  My client's self-directed options, founded on coaching questions, did.

I use this example to illustrate that whether my client asked me to be a Coach, Consultant, or Mentor in her situation - I would have begun with questions in all 3 instances.  Questions provide the necessary context and insight for BOTH my client and me to decide on next steps toward a solution. If we find ourselves in a place where the only option for my client to get "unstuck" is for me to teach/guide them (mentorship), or to offer my expertise (consulting) - that is the time where I shift roles.

At the end of the day, with my 20+ years of technical and leadership experience - questions are the most powerful tool I have. I studied to be a masterful Coach to learn to be masterful at asking questions in all areas of my work.  Not only did I become a better Coach - I became a more impactful Leader, Consultant and Mentor as well.

To learn more about asking questions, I highly recommend the following book as a place to start: "A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas" by Warren Berger

In a future Blog, I invite you to see how this translates into a Leadership Model - illustrated below.


Leadership involves knowing when to provide a Solution, a Lesson, or an Insight.

Leadership involves knowing when to provide a Solution, a Lesson, or an Insight.

Valerie McIntyre-Baird, CEC, is a senior international Leadership Strategist and Executive Coach with over 20 years of experience leading teams to reach their potential in the energy and technology industries. She is also on the Board of Startup Calgary & is a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Trained LSP Facilitator.


Language is The Most Powerful Tool You Have

The words I choose to say are as impactful as the effort I put into any of my work.

When working with clients, I pay careful attention to the language they use.  The smallest  subtlety of words can make the difference between momentum and dissolution - of ideas, solutions, relationships or courageous action.  

"I'll try" : "I will"  ---  "We think" : "I think"  ---  "They have to do this" : "I need Andy to do this"

I witnessed a brilliant example of this recently in Cameroon.  After working with 100+ leaders in the areas of leadership and innovation, we gathered together to watch the final presentations of all 5 teams.  Solutions to systemic problems had been identified and plans set forth by each team.  The energy level was high as each team prepared to deliver not only the solution, but their committed plan to implement and embed it.  

The first team presented.  Their solution was simple, scalable and incredibly impactful.  After the applause, we offered a microphone to the audience for questions and feedback...

First feedback from the audience: "I liked your presentation and slides BUT I don't think you can possibly do it because XYZ has never really worked properly..."

The energy was stolen from the room.  Not only did the presenting team feel defeated, EVERY team about to present felt the weight of the individual's ONE WORD  -  BUT...  Of everything we taught about leadership over the previous 2 weeks - this was the most impactful learning moment.  

Pausing to reflect with everyone in the audience, and all presenters, we had a conversation about language.  "What if everyone who gave feedback chose to say..." --"This is what I really liked about your presentation AND this is what I can offer to you to help you succeed and/or make it even better?" Light bulbs went on for everyone - and what happened was profound.  Hands went up after every presentation, offering skilled resources, supporting actions, money AND a celebration when they achieved their goals.  If there was a barrier to a solution, individuals offered what they had to overcome it - instead of just pointing the barriers out.  This wasn't just a change in LANGUAGE - this was a change in CULTURE.

Try replacing BUT with AND - and see what happens...



Have the Courage to Step Into Your Call For Action

This Guiding Principle is deeply respectful to the works of Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey.

There are moments in our lives, personally and professionally, where we have a choice to step into our fear and pursue what our hearts and minds know we need to do - our Call to Action.

My Call to Action came most recently when I left my long-term executive career and chose to take a 6-month sabbatical.  Stepping away from a 20+ year corporate path, I grasped the opportunity to step into the unknown and imagine what was possible.  This was my chance to reconnect with my purpose, my passions, and my sense of creativity and play.

I began by feeling lost.  Very lost.

One month into my sabbatical, my husband gave me a precious gift - a meditative hike in our neighbouring Rocky Mountains.  Here, I learned that being lost was exactly where I needed to start as I climbed the trail around Lake Minnewanka on a crisp November day.  Ronna Schneberger of guided me past streams, forests and vistas, leaving me in silence with profound questions about my purpose and passions.  Here, I found my way.

As I emerged from a choked forest, into a clear space created by a forest fire, I paused to pay attention to my surroundings.  There was something here that I needed to take note of.  Ronna waited 50ft down the path from me to let me reflect on my environment.  Where the abundance of trees, plants, smells and comfort of the deep forest had left me feeling protected and overwhelmed by its abundance - the sudden clearing left me feeling energized and the surrounding vistas, immense.

I asked Ronna to join me and help me understand the purpose and process of re-growth from a forest fire.  I learned that fires are a necessary part of the ecosystem, allowing for new growth and balance.  This was the analogy I had needed - my career and life had slowly become a choked forest, full of abundance with no room for anything new to grow and emerge.  My choice to take a career break, take a 6 month sabbatical and imagine what was possible was the result of "setting fire" to my complex life. 

Rather than feeling lost, I felt the need to plant new seeds and let my roots (my values, experience, skills and purpose) hold the soil together to let new opportunities emerge and flourish.

Stepping into my Call to Action has been one of the scariest and most fulfilling times of my life.  I have co-founded my own company, I am mentoring women in technology and entrepreneurship, I guest lecture at a local university, I am developing leaders in Cameroon (Africa), and I have returned to my creative pursuits.  I am not scared or lost - I am purposeful.

Part of my calling is to help others step into their own Call to Action - this is part of what we offer at McBaird Consulting.  I hope you have the courage to step into yours.