Insight from a great question

“Khun Kriengsak, as part of my leadership development, I have to coach three of my senior managers on their ‘soft’ skills,” Nid tells me. “Could you coach me on how to coach them?”

“How do you want me to coach you?”

“You could teach me how you facilitate my thinking by asking questions.”

“It’s easy to lecture you,” I reply. “What else could be more effective in developing coaching skills than lecturing?”


“Could be. What else?”

“I don’t know.”

“How did you learn to drive?”

“By driving. Aha! I will learn how to coach by practising coaching.”

“How will you practise?”

“I can practise with you. I’ll be the coach and you’ll be my client.”

“That’s great. Let’s do that. Why don’t we start with a subject that you aren’t familiar with such as writing a column. You will coach me how to write a great column in the Bangkok Post.”

“Why should I coach an experienced columnist about writing a column?”

“Why do you think?”

“Because I’m not an expert in that field. Since I can’t tell you anything from my own experience, I need to focus more on facilitating your thinking rather than coming up with my own solution for you. Okay, let’s do that.”

“Khun Nid, I want you to coach me on writing the Bridging the Gap column,” I begin.

He nods, and asks: “What’s your problem, Khun Kriengsak?”

“I have too many ideas for the next column.”

“Khun Kriengsak, what subjects do you have in mind?”

“I’ve been thinking of four ideas: coaching, cross-cultural management, leadership and communication. Which one do you think I should write?”

“Khun Kriengsak, I think you should write about coaching.”

I nod and pause for few seconds. I disagree with the suggestion and say: “On second thought, I think I’ll write about cross-cultural management. People are talking a lot about the AEC, so I think this subject would be very timely.”

Nid begins to reply: “But I think coaching is more attractive because … ”

I make a hand signal for a time-out.

“Why?” asks Nid.

“Khun Nid, let’s stop our role play. I want to give you some feedback. Did you notice you just told me what to do? We’d agreed you’d practise by asking questions until I came up with my own solution.”

“Okay, I get it.”

“This is called the ‘expert trap’. Whenever we’re asked ‘What do you think?’ we have a tendency to give our opinion. That’s expected of leaders, that they share their judgement. But for coaches, it’s not what we’re supposed to do. How can you avoid this trap?”

“I have to be present. I have to stick to the process. I mustn’t allow my autopilot _ the expert trap _ to start running on me. Self-awareness is the key.”

We play the second round. This time, Nid focuses more on questioning. Eventually, I come up with my own solution for my problem.

“Khun Nid, now let’s do a third round,” I say. “This is the most difficult one for you. You exercise five days a week. I want you to coach me on the benefits of exercising four days per week. You’re the expert on this subject, so be aware of the expert trap. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” he says, and begins by asking me: “Khun Kriengsak, tell me about your exercise routine now.”

“I exercise on and off,” I say. “Some weeks I work out twice, some weeks not at all, other weeks five times. I want to establish a consistent workout routine four times a week.”

“Why haven’t you done that?”

“I’m lazy.”

He is quiet for a moment _ he doesn’t know how to handle this answer, or maybe he’s fighting the temptation to just tell me what’s best for me. Nevertheless, he maintains his self-awareness and continues. “Khun Kriengsak, can you think of other experiences that followed a similar pattern? Was there some activity you tried and failed at first, but after a while you could overcome the problems?”

“Lots of things. But your question reminds me about writing the column. I’ve been doing it for 12 years now. In my early years, there were some weeks when I couldn’t come up with an idea until the last minute of my deadline. But my deadline is one week before the publishing date.”

“How did you overcome the obstacle?”

“My motivation for writing comes from the readers. I received a lot of positive feedback via email from readers who appreciated the value of the column in helping them.”

“So how could you transform that feeling of motivation to the way you approach regular exercise?”

“That’s really a great question. I’ve never thought about it that way. You’re right, I have to do it for the greater good. If I exercise regularly, I will live longer. Thus, I’ll be able to help make this world a better place for longer.”

As I reply I’m getting goose bumps _ it was a real “Eureka!” moment for me. I ask for a time-out to jot down down this insight in my notebook.

Khun Nid is amazed by my reaction and exclaims: “Wow! This is great example of how a good question can stimulate a great answer.”