HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

A Coach’s Perspective

Sep 20, 2012

The leaders’ Swiss Army Knife

Carol Gabanna

Imagine, as a leader, if you had such a tool, something you could “carry in your pocket”, a tool that would serve you in all kinds of situations.  I think of the Swiss Army Knife my Dad carried around.  Dad was never at a loss for the appropriate tool – at a family picnic and with ease, Dad could open a bottle, slice a tomato, pull a sliver from a grandson’s hand, tighten the screw on the toy truck, cut the string on the kite and refasten the leg on the picnic table.  With one tool, he was ready at a moment’s notice to be of service.

Your Swiss Army Knife contains… Questions.   An undeniable skill for a leader is listening ; questions are  tools to demonstrate active listening.  All you need is a sense of curiosity and a belief that others are capable.  Here are some questions that are handy to have in your Leader’s Swiss Army Knife:

  • Developing other’s potential: The next time one of your staff asks for your advice on a sticky problem, try asking them, “What are some other options that you haven’t thought of yet?” or “When you ran into something like this before, what did you do that worked well?”
  • Switching perspective:  As you head into a meeting with a staff member to talk about a performance issue, ask yourself, “How is the way I’m seeing this issue contributing to the issue?”
  • Bringing focus: At your next management team meeting, when the conversation seems to have become circular, why not say, “Let’s pause for a bit here and ask ourselves, ‘what is our purpose in discussing this topic?’”
  • Seeing things differently: When you are preparing for your next critical meeting, instead of preparing what you are going to say, instead, ask yourself, “what is this other person committed to?” or “what is important to them?”

When people solve a problem themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters like adrenaline.  Rather than lecturing and providing solutions, effective [leaders] ask pertinent questions and support [others] in finding solutions on their own.[1]  So questions not only aid the leader, but sharpen the tools of others as well.

Questions are indeed the leader’s way of being of service to others – the true measure of a leader!  Questions are a key coaching tool.  A book I highly recommend: change your questions change your life by Marilee Adams


Executive Coaching is a series of confidential one-on-one conversation where you are the focus.  You will expand your personal capacity to have impact and to achieve extraordinary results. You will create your future and design and follow through on the actions needed to achieve that future. In our conversations you will address your challenges with relationships, processes and barriers. You will deepen your learning about yourself and what is required of you as a leader. I will be your thinking and accountability partner, supporting and challenging you – listening you into your future. For more information on coaching and how coaching could benefit you, contact Carol Gabanna at or 902-626-2530

[1] (Rock & Schwartz, 2006)

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