Miracles really can happen (to leaders and their teams)

The Miracle Question is a coaching tool used to help clients see a better future. But its value for leaders is massive, too. Here, I’ll show you how you can use it in your own leadership and improve your engagement with your team as a result.

Imagine you’re leading a team. A team member comes to you with a problem that they’re really worried about. They can’t see a way out. You go around and around, suggesting solutions and they discount them all as never going to work. You’re stuck. They’re stuck. Everyone gets frustrated. The problem still isn’t solved and tensions are higher than they were before.

I’ve seen this many times over the years – both with leaders and their teams. Feeling stuck. Lacking in ideas. No solutions. You feel as though you’re doing the right thing, trying to tackle a problem head on, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

I’m about to tell you something that might possibly change your life. Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist anymore. I know, I know. That sounds like an ostrich sticking their head in the sand. But it’s not. There’s another way:

The Miracle Question

The Miracle Question is a fantastic tool beloved by many coaches that may help you as a leader, or as an individual, to get unstuck.

It’s a psychotherapeutic (counselling) tool that has its origins in Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy, and the work of Dr Linda Metcalf. It’s used loads in executive coaching to help clients identify and set goals. It works for leaders, their team members, and pretty much anyone who’s feeling as though they can’t work out the solution to their problems.

The miracle question is this:

‘Suppose tonight, while you sleep, a miracle occurs. When you wake tomorrow, what would you notice that would tell you that things were better?’

You’re letting someone picture themselves on the other side of a problem. You’re letting them notice what has changed. Yes, it’s just in their imagination right now, but the brain’s a funny thing and it starts to believe what it imagines. And you’re showing them the possibility of a world where the problem has gone away which feels good and reinforces the need for change.

Get them to describe it in as much detail as possible. You might need to add some prompting questions:

  • What are you noticing around you?
  • What can you see?
  • What can you hear?
  • How do you feel?
  • Where will you go next on this day?
  • How will you be different as a result?

These questions create clarity on the better, imagined state. And then you’ll almost certainly find they can start to see small insights of how to achieve it.

You can play around with the Miracle Question to make it fit your context. As you’re not using it in a therapeutic setting but rather a workplace coaching setting, it’s yours to experiment with. You could get more specific to make sure they focus on the problem at hand, for example:

‘Suppose I had a magic wand I could use overnight to make you overcome your creative block. When you return to your office tomorrow, what would you notice that would tell you that your creativity had radically improved?’

To give a quick example of a recent client. She was looking for a more senior leadership position but couldn’t find a way to get there. I asked her to imagine she’d woken up in that role. She thought about what had changed and she noticed that she wasn’t wearing a suit anymore. She realised it was about moving outside a law setting as she was fed up. And that prompted really successful conversations with recruitment consultants who helped her work out her options were, and forge a new career plan. All from the miracle question removing her sense of being stuck.

The Miracle Question can be such a useful tool — and it works for reasons we can clearly see. As a leader, you can tap into your team’s natural understanding of what better looks like, and then help them find a way to get there.

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