As an experienced business professional with a record of success, you’re probably used to solving problems. In fact, we often think of success in terms of how many problems we solve. We imagine successful people as go-getters who get stuff done and address our challenges. 

However, the moment you become a leader, everything changes. 

A Leader’s Job is to Build Teams That Solve Their Own Problems 

As a leader, it’s not your job to solve problems. Instead, your job is to build and inspire a team that solves their own problems. 

Say you have a team of relatively inexperienced professionals. They’ve got great potential but run into roadblocks here and there on account of their inexperience. If you step in and fix their problems whenever they have an issue, you are teaching them that they can’t solve problems on their own. You’re also teaching them that you are the source of their solutions! 

Furthermore, you’re creating habits for yourself and the team – habits that lead to you spending all your time fixing problems rather than working on more important issues. 

Leveraging Coaching to Help Team Members Reach Their Full Potential 

As a leader, your job is to coach each team member to reach their full potential and solve their own problems. As a result, they can add more value to the organization while simultaneously leaving you free to pursue bigger priorities. 

One key element here is accepting that our team members will fail. That’s okay! Failure is an important part of learning for everyone. Leaders need to communicate that they are okay with failure, as this gives employees the confidence to take risks and learn new skills without fear of stumbling. 

Using Questions to Help Someone Solve Their Own Problems 

The key to coaching is asking questions. Just as we shouldn’t jump to fix our team’s problems, we shouldn’t jump to giving them instructions.  

If we just tell our team members how to address every problem, they won’t learn to problem-solve on their own or find their own solutions. Instead, we can ask questions that prompt them to work through the issue themselves.  

Baker’s Dozen Questions for Coaching 

These are my baker’s dozen questions for coaching. I don’t necessarily use all 13 at every coaching session, but they’re a good jumping-off point to guide a team member through solving their own problems. 

  1. Where are you at?
  2. What is working?
  3. What isn’t working?
  4. Why do you feel it’s not working?
  5. What do you believe is missing?
  6. What do you feel you need next?
  7. What do you ultimately want in this situation (SMART goals)?
  8. Why do you want that?
  9. What are the major obstacles in the way?
  10. What have you done so far to push through these obstacles?
  11. What were your results with that?
  12. What do you still need assistance with?
  13. What’s the one thing you can do today to move forward?

Coaching is Always a Process

The last point I want to make is that coaching is a process. We don’t teach someone how to solve their problems in a single coaching session. Instead, we must coach our teams routinely to help them achieve their true potential. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are the best teams. However, the end result of a high-performing, autonomous team is well worth the time investment! 

Experience is the Best Teacher 

For many years as a young leader, I focused on solving problems for my team, not teaching them to solve problems. What was the result? A line of people always at more door asking me for my input or to make decisions for them. Unknowingly I fell into the exact trap I outline above – what I thought was helping my team was actually creating a bigger problem in the long run.   

Most of my articles and blogs come from my own experiences and education as a leader. My hope is that you can learn from the mistakes I have made.

If you’re a leader, I need you to ask yourself…what are you doing today to help your team reach their full potential?

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