‘Ask’ versus ‘Tell’ when coaching

 Apr 10, 2019 7:45 AM

 ‘Ask’ versus ‘Tell’ when coaching

Many leaders admit that it’s really tough not to jump in and solve problems, give direction, or rescue when coaching. Sometimes leaders care so much about the people on their team that they want to protect them (i.e., keep them from making so-called ‘bad’ decisions). Other times, leaders get stuck in their own perspective and forget that it’s okay for someone to do something differently than they would. As a coach, it is important to let your coachee (client or direct report) solve problems on their own, own their decisions, and learn from any mis-steps.

The importance of letting others take responsibility for their own decisions and outcomes is a hot topic in the Coaching and Developing Others course that I teach in the University of Guelph’s MA (Leadership) Program. While discussing this topic with my online coaching class, one of my students, Linda, shared a personal story about how she has learned over the years to take a coaching approach with her adult children. When her daughter (Sarah), a leader in a manufacturing company, asked her for advice recently, she noted that:

“I was acutely aware NOT to “parent” Sarah, even though, as her mom, I wanted to protect her from any possible negative consequences. Sarah is my third offspring; my other two have started careers, ended careers, reinvented themselves, loved employers, hated employers and through all that, I learned to coach and NOT own ‘their’ business. I listen, love them, soothe them and stay tough. I let them OWN their decisions and the outcomes.”

When coaching, the key is utilizing an ‘Ask’ versus ‘Tell’ approach. Draw on open-ended questions to support the coaching conversation and allow your coachee to think things through on their own. Here are some examples:

1: What’s the real challenge for you here?

2: What outcome do you want to see?

3: What steps have you taken so far to achieve that?

4: What would happen if you stand still?

5: What has been successful in the past?

6: What didn’t work in the past?

7: What would you like to do differently next time?

8: What are the options as you see them?

9: What obstacles might occur?

10: What action would you like to take first?

11: What role do you want me to play in holding you accountable?

12: How will you hold yourself accountable?

13: How will you measure success?

3rd book in La Maison du Parc series, Coaching in a Character Culture, continues the story of Claire and her team at the restaurant, and provides additional questions, tools, and processes that are foundational to The COACH Approach©.

Contact me if you are having challenges utilizing an ‘ask’ versus ‘tell’ approach with your team members or would like to fine-tune your approach.


Kathleen Redmond, MA, MCC

Kathleen Redmond

Kathleen Redmond is the Founder of the Centre for Character Leadership. She is certified Master Certified Coach (International Coach Federation), an author and Adjunct Professor of the University of Guelph’s MA Leadership Program.



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