Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

Coaching: It’s Not Master Mind

Do you remember the game called Master Mind? It went something like this: Player one selects four coloured pegs and conceals them from the other player, either by putting them below the surface of the playing board (see photo ->) or pegging them behind a small shield on the board. Player two, through a process of logic and elimination had to work out the colours and the placement of the pegs. Oh! The fun we had on rainy winter days with that game …!

I can hear you muttering now, “how does this walk down memory lane relate to coaching?” Simple. Too often those starting out on their journey to develop coaching skills to add to their management and leadership repertoire, seem to be playing a game similar to Master Mind. They ask questions that are designed to eliminate possibilities or root causes.

The Clue’s in the Question

You’ll know you are doing this when you catch yourself starting questions with stems such as:

  • “Do you think it is about X?”
  • “Have you tried B or C yet?”
  • “When will you get this done, by the end of this week or next?”

The point of these questions isn’t really to explore, it’s to confirm or deny a suspicion or an idea, in the head of the questioner. Now that may be ok in the world outside of coaching but it doesn’t help the client (person being coached) to really think through their options in a way that is as free as it could be of your influence – the impacts of which are all the more powerful if you happen to be their manager.

Assumption Fault

In the game of Master Mind Player One knew the colour of the pegs they had selected and where they had placed them. In coaching, the client may well be in a position where at the point you are working with them, they haven’t even selected their metaphorical ‘pegs’ yet. They may not know clearly what their goal is, or be clear about what actions they will take, so you asking them a series of questions to eliminate possibilities is based on a faulty assumption that they are already aware of these facts.

Ask better questions

To paraphrase French historian and Philosopher Voltaire, ‘judge a person by their questions rather than their answers.’ Think carefully about your motivation for asking the questions that you are asking, are they there to eliminate possibilities or are they genuinely there to help your client discover those answers for themselves?

Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to  raise your performance to the next level, find out more here