Whoever asks the most questions wins. It’s a great strategy for conversation. It’s a great strategy for an interview. It’s a great strategy for leadership. And it’s a great strategy for coaches as well.
Whoever asks the most questions is going to learn the most. In any interaction, when you ask questions you’ll get information. It might not always be the information you want, but you are going to learn more when you ask questions. So if I want to learn more about my team, the more questions I ask them the better.
Coaches talk a lot about trying to create ownership with their teams, but often struggle to do it. Asking questions is a great way to create ownership. Get your team talking about what they see, what they want and what they need to do. Get them to say it. When they verbalize what they want and what they are trying to do, you can hold them accountable for their own words. Hearing them say it and holding them accountable for it is very powerful. This is what you told me you wanted, and this is how we are going to get there.
Declarative statements can stifle the leadership and ownership of your team. But most of us feel like as the head coach we are supposed to be making declarative statements. The head coach is the decision maker, so he’s supposed to tell people what to do. This is what I see, this is what we are doing, this is how we are going to do it. It’s the traditional way leadership is supposed to work.
Certainly there are times when your team needs to be told what to do. I’m not saying the head coach isn’t the primary decision maker. But when you walk into practice or the film room and you make declarative statements you have to be careful. You are suppressing any disagreement, thought or creativity you might find from your players and your staff. And you should want disagreement. You should want your team and staff to think differently and to feel comfortable expressing themselves. That is how you get the most out of individuals and your entire organization.
I think a lot of coaches make declarative statements because it makes them feel comfortable. They are in control, they are the leader, and they want everyone to know that they know what is going on. We are getting killed in transition. We are going to do a better job on the glass. We will throw the ball inside. We have to guard the ball better. When you walk into practice and make those statements, you feel like you have control. But you are also telling everyone else what to think. It creates groupthink, which is a direct enemy of progress. It’s something I personally try to avoid at all costs.
When the boss makes statements about what is going on and everyone nods their head and moves forward, he feels comfortable. He gets affirmation for what he believes, and he can feel better, like the team is making progress. This is especially comforting when a team is struggling. You need a solution, so you watch film, talk with your staff and figure it out. Then you go in front of your team and tell them what is happening and what has to change.
Instead of making statements, ask your teams questions. Instead of coming in and saying this is what we have to do to get better, ask them what they think you need to do to get better. Do the same with your staff. Instead of yelling at them to stop turning the ball over, ask them what they say when the made the pass. Find out what they were thinking. Instead of telling them they aren’t running hard enough, ask them if that’s as hard as they can run. Get them to say it. Learn what’s going in their head. And get them to take ownership of it.
Whether you know it or not, if you come to the office every day telling people what you think is going on with your team, you are telling them what to think. You are limiting the ability of both your players and your staff to help you. Ask questions, don’t make statements. You will get better feedback from your team on how to coach them and your players will take more ownership of what you are doing.