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.