Developing a Coaching Mindset-Asking Questions that Make Managers Think

Developing a Coaching Mindset: Asking Questions that Make Managers Think

In a world characterized by constant change and ever-expanding to-do lists, prioritization and execution have become vital skills for any team. Managers often bear the responsibility of guiding their teams through this maze of tasks, ensuring that the most critical objectives are met. However, many managers struggle with this responsibility. According to a recent survey by McKinsey, 67% of managers admit to feeling overwhelmed by their workload and unable to provide sufficient guidance to their teams.

Moreover, when teams push back, opting to tell their managers about their difficulties rather than engaging in constructive dialogue, it can create a significant impasse. This “telling” approach often fails to prompt necessary changes, and the underlying issues persist. It’s a common problem, and one that begs the question: how can managers and teams work together and develop a coaching mindset to more effectively to overcome these hurdles?

The Power of Thought-Provoking Questions

Enter the art of asking questions that make managers think. This powerful skill can transform interactions within organizations. By asking the right questions, managers can encourage their teams to reflect on their challenges, explore potential solutions, and take ownership of their priorities and execution.

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed that teams whose managers ask more questions tend to be more innovative and adaptive, ultimately resulting in better performance.

To initiate this transformation, managers must adopt a questioning mindset and practice asking open-ended questions that encourage deeper thought.

For example, instead of demanding a status update on a project, a manager might ask, “What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in moving this project forward, and how do you propose we address them?” This question not only prompts the team to identify obstacles but also invites them to think critically about solutions.

A few more examples of powerful questions:

Instead of simply assigning tasks, ask, “What do you believe is the most important outcome we should achieve with this project, and why?”

Instead of instructing team members to work together, ask, “What collaborative approaches can we explore to leverage the unique strengths of each team member?”

Instead of providing feedback, ask, “What aspects of your work do you think you could improve, and what support or resources would you need to do so?”

Instead of making decisions unilaterally, ask, “What factors should we consider when making this decision, and what are the potential consequences of each option?”

Instead of seeking straightforward solutions, ask, “In what unconventional ways can we approach this problem to achieve a breakthrough?”

Instead of prescribing training, ask, “What skills or knowledge areas do you believe would benefit you and the team, and how can we acquire them?”

Instead of imposing a solution to conflicts, ask, “What are the underlying causes of this conflict, and how can we work together to address them constructively?”

Instead of assuming, ask, “What can we do to ensure that every team member feels included and valued for their unique perspectives?”

Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity

Fostering a culture of curiosity within an organization is key to nurturing this skill. Managers and team members should feel comfortable asking questions, challenging assumptions, and seeking alternatives. Research from Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report suggests that organizations with a strong culture of inquiry are more likely to outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth.

To instill this culture, leaders can lead by example. Encourage managers to ask questions not only of their teams but also of themselves and their own decision-making processes. By demonstrating a commitment to self-reflection and improvement, managers can set the tone for their teams to do the same.

Data-Driven Insights

In the data-driven world of today, the value of questions becomes even more apparent. Data can provide valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities within an organization, but only if the right questions are asked.

Consider the case of a study conducted by Gallup, which found that organizations with managers who regularly ask their employees for feedback have 14.9% lower turnover rates than those who don’t. The simple act of asking questions and actively listening to the responses can significantly impact employee satisfaction and retention.

The Impact on Employee Engagement

Furthermore, the connection between asking questions and employee engagement is evident. A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that employees who felt their managers asked for their input on a regular basis reported higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement.

In contrast, when employees feel their voices are not heard or their concerns are dismissed, they become disengaged and demotivated. Encouraging managers to ask thoughtful questions not only improves their leadership effectiveness but also creates a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Also Read: Unlocking the Potential of Millennial Leaders: Coaching Strategies for the Next Generation

Exploring blindspots in practising curiosity

Addressing the blind spots that hinder effective leadership is pivotal to embracing the art of asking questions that make managers think. One critical blind spot lies in the overwhelming nature of modern work environments. The deluge of tasks and responsibilities can obscure the path to effective leadership, causing managers to prioritize mere task completion over fostering a culture of curiosity. Additionally, the prevalent tendency of teams to resort to the “telling” approach instead of constructive dialogue can perpetuate stagnation and hinder innovation. To empower managers and teams to overcome these challenges, a shift is essential. By embracing the art of thought-provoking questions, managers can instigate transformative conversations. The research conducted by Harvard Business Review underscores that this approach can catalyze innovation and adaptability, fostering an environment where teams think critically and contribute to superior performance. Thus, the first step towards elevating leadership is recognizing and addressing these blind spots, paving the way for a culture of curiosity and thoughtful inquiry to flourish, ultimately benefiting both managers and teams alike.

Practical Steps for Developing Questioning Skills

Developing the ability to ask questions that make managers think is a skill that can be cultivated. Here are some practical steps for managers and organizations to consider:

  • Training and Coaching: Organizations like ours can provide training and coaching programs to help managers develop their questioning skills. These programs can include role-playing, peer feedback, and ongoing practice.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Implement feedback mechanisms that allow employees to rate their managers’ communication and questioning skills. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement.
  • Questioning Frameworks: Provide managers with frameworks and templates for asking effective questions. These can serve as a starting point for developing their questioning skills.
  • Mentoring and Peer Learning: Encourage managers to learn from their peers who excel in asking thought-provoking questions. Peer mentoring and learning can be a valuable resource for skill development.

This table highlights key differences between the telling and asking styles of communication, emphasizing their impact on decision-making, problem-solving, team engagement, and innovation.

AspectTelling Style   Asking Style      
Communication ApproachDirective and instructiveInquiry-based and open-ended
Decision-MakingAuthoritative, top-down decisionsCollaborative, involving team input
Problem-SolvingPrescriptive solutions imposed on teamsEncourages teams to brainstorm solutions
Team EngagementPassive participation, follows instructionsActive engagement, seeks team input
Impact on Innovation    May stifle creativity and innovationFosters innovation through diverse ideas

The art of asking questions that make managers think is not just a valuable leadership skill; it is a potent tool for driving progress and success in the dynamic world of business. Embracing this skill can lead to empowered, engaged teams capable of navigating complex challenges and consistently achieving superior results. As organizations increasingly recognize the transformative potential of thought-provoking questions, we can anticipate a shift towards a more inclusive, creative, and high-achieving workplace culture—one where asking the right questions becomes just as important as finding the answers.

To know more about developing a coaching mindset as a leader, sign up for our program.


  • Chandrani Datta

    Chandrani Datta works as a Manager-Content Research and Development with almost a decade’s experience in writing and editing of content. A former journalist turned content manager, Chandrani has written and edited for different brands cutting across industries. The hunger for learning, meaningful work and novel experiences keeps her on her toes. An avid traveller, Chandrani’s interests lie in photography, reading and watching movies.

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