Leadership Advice

Coaching tip for managers: Remember ‘Q before A’

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

As a manager, you’re expected to have answers, solutions, and advice for people. Your guidance helps ensure quality. You enjoy being a problem-solver. It’s satisfying to know people rely on you.

But there’s a difference between telling people what to do — that’s fixing — and helping people discover ideas and solutions. That’s coaching. 

Coaching is powerful, because it not only builds your team’s capacity for good decision-making, it also builds your relationships with them. When you’re a “fixer,” you focus on the problem, provide a solution, and send the employee on their way. When you’re a coach, you focus on the person, engage with them, and they leave with a solution they’ve crafted with your support.

It takes practice to become a coach. You need to learn to put yourself on pause and refrain from acting as an automatic answer machine. 

Here’s a mini-lesson for you:

Remember this mantra: “Q before A.” It means you should ask good questions before giving answers or advice.

Questions are the “power tools” of coaching.

  • They put the focus on the other person, their ideas, and concerns.
  • They remind us that we shouldn’t assume we know it all.
  • They open us up to new information.
  • They make it more likely the other person will come up with a solution that they will own (with our support).

When you “Q before A,” be sure to use open-ended, non-judgmental questions. They widen the lens on an issue. They help people focus and frame, separate assumptions from facts, face and overcome fears, and identify options.

Here are 10 examples of good “Qs”:

  1. What’s important to you?
  2. What else is going on?
  3. What leads you to that thought?
  4. What else have you tried?
  5. What more do you need to know before moving forward?
  6. What’s the worst that could happen?
  7. What will happen if you do nothing?
  8. What alternatives do you see?
  9. Who else would be affected?
  10. How would you measure success?

This is a mini-lesson. But it’s a start. 

Your next step is to practice. Begin with a few of your top performing team members. They’re the ones who are most ready to develop and follow-through on ideas born of your coaching conversations. Your success with them will build confidence in your coaching skills. 

Then keep practicing. Resist the urge to “fix” unless it’s absolutely necessary. (And it sometimes is.) Before you know it, coaching will become second nature to you. 

You’ll be a “Q before A” leader.


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