Modern executive leadership coaches utilize a form of the Socratic method in their work with clients.
Socrates, a Greek philosopher born in 470 BC, is perhaps best known for the creation of a form of dialogue known as the Socratic method.
Being a renowned teacher, Socrates would employ this unique form of dialogue as a means of helping students discover their beliefs and assumptions regarding various topics, while simultaneously challenging their assertions and helping them see the logic, or lack thereof, behind their thoughts and actions.
What distinguished the Socratic teaching method from other traditional methods was the use of questions.
Socrates rarely answered his student’s questions. Instead, he responded to a question with another question; one that was intended to stimulate the students creative thought process.
Coaches employ what is commonly referred to as “powerful questions” to facilitate a client’s creative thinking and decision-making process.
Using powerful questions, we help our clients uncover their own hidden assumptions and beliefs that may potentially hinder their decision-making process.
Our work helps them come to a point of greater clarity that leads to better decisions and a deeper understanding of how their hidden assumptions and beliefs can cloud their rational thinking.
Doctors can utilize these same proven coaching techniques and powerful questions when developing their practice’s human capital – your team.
One of our goals as coaches is to train our doctor clients to become more coach-like so they can develop their team’s potential to reach peak performance at a much faster pace than they would have thought possible.
Like Socrates, doctors that become coach-like ask more questions and give fewer answers. Coaching conversations with staff and team members need not be formal or lengthy, however there are several ground rules that will make the conversation more effective and impactful.
Here are just a few tips on how to improve your conversations with your team following the Socratic Method:
1. Clarify your Intentions.
“My intention for our conversation is………”
This keeps the conversation on point
2. Be Curious.
“Just out of curiosity……”
“Help me understand……
“What am I not seeing?”
This is a non-confrontational way to get the information you are seeking.
3. Ask open ended questions that begin with “What” or “How”.
Asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” are not helpful and tend to be counterproductive by shutting down creative reflection.
Questions that begin with “why” can be counterproductive because they are often misinterpreted as accusatory.
4. Acknowledge and Appreciate the other Person’s Perspective.
Their perspective is their reality. Coaches meet their clients where they are. We can not deny their perspective. The best thing we can do is have them question their beliefs by asking thoughtful powerful questions.
5. Embrace the Silence.
Coaches learn to accept silence. Too often, we are compelled to fill the void when prolonged silence follows a powerful question, yet this silence may be necessary for our client to process the question and develop their answer. Silence is sacred territory; therefore, we must avoid the urge to step into it.
6. Ask for their Summary.
“What is your takeaway from this conversation?”
Questions like this ensure that each party leaves the conversation with clarity regarding what was discussed and what needs to happen going forward.
There are books available that list numerous powerful questions and how to use them. Some of the top ones are:
- The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
- Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus
- Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life by Marilee G. Adams PhD
When you are working to develop your team and their potential, be sure to refer to this list of questions and follow the Socratic Method to stimulate the conversation with your team. This practice will help your team reach peak performance faster.
At Line of Sight Coaching, we have brought in a new coach, Pina Johnson who is running our Leadership Team Coaching program.
The Leadership Team coaching is a 6-month program for Office Managers, Practice Administrators, Hygiene Department Leads, Administrative Leads, Lead RDA’s, Doctors Spouse/Business Managers, or any people who are a vital part of the Leadership Team in your organization.
The program is a way for the leadership team to get coaching, mentoring and leadership development with a combination of 1-1 coaching and group mastermind sessions. This program focuses on developing a team of Peak Performers by creating a practice culture that is empowering and enjoyable.
Dr. Joel Small and Dr. Edwin McDonald, the founders of Line of Sight Coaching, are dental practitioners, authors, speakers and Business Leadership Coaches who work with healthcare professionals to help them build more successful practices so they can live the balanced life they seek.