Whenever I do any kind of coaching, I usually try to ask questions to get people to give me answers that I figure they know already. It doesn't always work that way, but for the most part it works pretty well.

I start with that statement because there's a sharp divide among coaches as to whether a coach should ever give anyone the answers to their questions. Some coaches believe everyone always knows the answers and just need help pulling them out. Some, like me, believe that if everyone already knew the answers there would never be a need for anyone to ask questions, or probably need coaching or mentoring to begin with.

Recently I had someone who contacted me about some issues she was having. She's also a friend, and I could tell she was distraught about her situation. There wasn't one issue; she was feeling overwhelmed. I invited her over so we could talk in person.

When she arrived, she was an emotional mess. She started trying to talk, but she just wasn't sure where to start. I gave her a pad of paper and a pen and I told her to write out every one of her problems. I said not to try to put them in order, just to write them out like a list.

When she was done she handed it over to me. There were six items on the list. Out of the six items, five were related to business issues, while the last one was a personal issue. I knew the personal issue was the one that was troubling her the most and decided I wasn't going to start with that one.

Instead, I started with a business issue, and not one I thought was overly critical. With that issue I read back what she wrote, asked her to briefly tell me about it, and when she was done I told her what to do. She didn't question it at all; she just said she understood, wrote down what I said, and that was that.

I then selected a business issue that I knew was a lot tougher. She explained it to me, and I understood it very well. I told her what to do, while at the same time asking pointed questions that I pretty much knew only had one answer. She wrote things down, and within 10 minutes we had solved that issue.

For the next business issue I asked her to tell me about it. When she was done, I asked her what she thought she should do. She was able to tell me what to do because suddenly she wasn't feeling as much pressure anymore on the business issues. The same thing happened for the next two business issues. She said what she believed she should do, I agreed, and she wrote down what she said.

The last issue was the personal issue, and I told her that I couldn't solve that one for her, but if she wanted to talk it out I would offer her some points of view. I always hate giving direct advice on personal issues unless someone's life is in danger, but I will share options, things I believe could happen, if there's no action taken. As I said earlier, I knew the personal issue was what was causing indecision on the other problems she had, and I also knew that I had to take charge to help her regain her equilibrium.

It's not just coaches or mentors that need to do this type of thing. Sometimes, leaders and managers need to know how to do this as well. Managers tend to do one of two things; either they answer everything or they answer nothing. Being what I call a "hands-off" manager or a "micro-manager" does no one any good, and actually impedes the work environment. Being someone who knows when to help and when to take charge makes everyone better.