“This isn’t working”. 

I was completely saturated from head to toe in sweat as I looked at my good friend in the carpark of a local school.  He looked back at me with the same defeated look in his eye as we both slumped over the boot of the small white Hyundai hatchback I was borrowing from another friend. For the past 45minutes we had been pushing this car around in the hot summer Queensland sun attempting to use the manual transmission to give it a push start. Time after time we would put our shoulder to the rear of the car, let out a loud manly grunt and gather momentum…with no success. When we reached the end of the car park we turned the car around (without power steering) and started back in the opposite direction. 

After many unsuccessful attempts, low morale and the feeling of going around in circles I looked at my friend and said the words “this isn’t working“. We resolved with having to walk to our destination and meet the owner of the Hyundai. When we arrived I was quick to let her know that the battery was flat in the vehicle and after many failed attempts at push starting it, my diagnosis was that the battery broken. 

She looked at the two of us standing there exhausted and defeated and said – “Did you know this car has an engine immobiliser? You need to press this button on the key before you try and start the car or it won’t work”

No. We were not aware of that. We were definitely not aware of that. We didn’t think. We hadn’t stopped to ask.

And that was the problem. 

Often people come to a coaching relationship with a presenting problem or challenge. It’s very tempting to jump right in and provide solutions or answers. But learning to lead well means learning to listen well. When people present with a problem, they present with the fruit of that problem. A great coach is slow to speak, actively listens and asks questions that identify the root of the problem. There’s no shortage of answers, but asking the right questions is the mark of great leaders and coaches. 

Don’t spend time, energy and effort going around the carpark dealing with a problem that isn’t the real issue. You will wear yourself out and your client or team member. Take the time, ask the right questions. 

Tip: Next time someone presents with a problem, resist the urge to speak and try one of these probing phrases – “Tell me more about that” or “What else is on your mind” or even “Why is this a challenge for you”