Coaching and Curiousity

In an increasingly volatile economic climate, sales organizations must keep pace by investing in talent development to reach the demanding objectives that they are tasked with accomplishing.

Due to the increased demand for results, leaders look for salespeople to continually advance their skills. Training is no longer enough to change sales behavior. In one global benchmark of Business to Business sales organizations, 80% of companies reported taking on a major training initiative to change sales behavior of the 80 per cent, only 18 percent were greatly effective.

Coaching was cited as the difference maker in all of the organizations who reported being very effective in changing sales behavior.  To keep up in the current economic climate, building a sales organization focused on coaching as a key differentiator to sales success is imperative. One of Braithwaite’s client organizations has done just that. They have been able to achieve significant, measurable results in both hard revenue measures, as well as softer measures of important variables such as, “my supervisor cares about me as more than a sales producer.”  This company has been successful by embracing the importance of coaching and creating leaders that approach coaching with a courageously curious mindset.


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What does it mean to be courageously curious?

According to Webster’s Dictionary curiosity is defined as the desire to know, inquisitive interest in others’ concerns or interest leading to inquiry. Webster’s Dictionary defines being courageous simply as being brave.

Why do leaders need to be brave and curious to be effective coaches? 

A key ingredient of successful coaching is inquiry, or the art of questioning.

Coaching is most effective when the supervisor or coach enters into the coaching conversation not knowing exactly where the conversation will lead. If the supervisor enters into the coaching conversation with the spirit of inquiry, then he/she is able to truly listen for employee’s or coachee’s perspective. The very definition of curiosity is an inquisitive interest in others’ concerns’. Stephen Covey reminded all leaders of the need to “seek to understand” before being understood.  This is vital for leadership and essential to all coaching conversations.

As a coach you need to first understand where someone is before you can help them reach a new place or new understanding.

It is evident to me, as I work with sales leaders, that they must be brave in order to enter into conversations with uncertainty.  As a leader you must make yourself vulnerable when  entering a conversation knowing you don’t have all the answers. Admitting to someone who is subordinate to you in the organizational hierarchy that you don’t have all the answers can be humbling.  Not only the mere act of being vulnerable with a subordinate causes angst for these supervisors, but curiosity itself can add to the distress.

Equilibrium theories of curiosity suggest that we have an optimal state of being curious. (Littman, 2005).  In very simple terms, if we are too curious we are overwhelmed; conversely, if we are not curious we will be bored.

As I watch leaders exercise new coaching skills, I see them feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable when they don’t know exactly how or what to say in the coaching conversation. They worry: “Will I know what to ask and what to say?” Furthermore, they find themselves overwhelmed when asking questions that reveal how a salesperson made the decisions they made. They find themselves strapped for time to understand how and why a salesperson approached the selling process the way they chose to.

However, when these same supervisors are encourage to be bravely curious then take the time to find out how and why the salespeople they are coaching make the decisions. These supervisors feel empowered to help those they are coaching to self assess and focus on continual improvement through the coaching process.  Supervisors who make themselves vulnerable are rewarded with salespeople who not only improve their sales performance but also end up feeling more valued by their supervisor.  As organizations set higher and higher revenue objectives in these uncertain economic times fostering leaders who are courageously curios might just be  the path to success.  How are you fostering curiosity?

Litman, J. A. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition & Emotion, 19(6), 793-814. doi:10.1080/02699930541000101

Boosting Sales Coaching Quality : Aligning Coaching Strategy to Individual and Business Needs Marketing Leadership Roundtable (2007)

Want to know more about this subject or discuss this? Contact Amy Diederich []