Rev Up Your Leadership with OIL Method

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

Too often I see leaders communicating by telling…what’s wrong with this technique?

First of all this is what managers do, not leaders. And, you may be missing opportunities for innovation and employee development.
You see, telling may be teaching but it isn’t sustainable development.

So what is the OIL Method?
As an executive coach, I have been using this method for years and actually spend
time assisting executives to develop their proficiency in this method as well. Observe, Inquire, and Listen, OIL, are the three aspects to fully understanding and developing others by improving the components of effective communication. When a leader practices these techniques effectively and consistently magic happens. Suddenly the performance of others improves and the leader has time to do more of what she needs to be doing, leading not doing.

The ability to observe what others may not see is a huge advantage to a leader. This
requires a dedicated focus to watching for nuances and subtle changes whether
it is a person’s attitude, their communications, or body language. Subtle
changes can be a precursor to potential problems in the future. These are some
of the things you should be observing daily:

1.Employee Interaction
How does an employee interact with others?And
whom are they spending their time with? What differences in behavior do you see
when they are comfortable versus uncomfortable with others?
How do they respond to performance feedback? And how do they respond to
accountability? What do they do to encourage other’s to perform at great
Who is timely versus who is late? Who has difficulty making decisions? Who is
proactive and bringing you solutions versus those who complain and whine? Who
is making excuses versus taking responsibility?
4.Environment and other external factors
A person’s workspace, clothing, and can give a leader clues about an employee’s
Look for things that are out of place or behaviors that that are unusual for an
individual or a team.
And great way to observe is by MBWA, Management by Walking

Most mangers and leaders underrate questioning skills, yet when you master the art
of inquiry you gain better understanding, leading to better relationships and decisions.

And in order to master inquiry, you first need to define the goal you want to
accomplish. Here are some goals that a leader may want to accomplish through
good questions:
1.Coaching employees to self reflect and commit to specific actions
2.Learning about situations, people, processes, etc.
3.Persuading others to move in a specific direction or make a certain
4.Seeking clarification and understanding to redirect misunderstandings or
5.Building existing or new relationships by asking people for their
Only until you have become clear about your inquiry, can you form the appropriate

The goal of listening is to gain understanding, which means that the listener needs
to not just hear noise and words coming out of a person’s mouth but understand
exactly what the person is trying to communicate. This requires active
listening and it is active because it takes work and isn’t natural for many of

So what gets in the way of actively listening? Here are the top five things that
work against a person being able to actively listen:
1.Doing other things in addition to listening such as email, text, or
other tasks that take your focus off the person speaking
2.Personal opinions and biases can distract you from listening to the
message being delivered. They can also cause you to interrupt the other person.
3.Emotions that you have about the subject can shut down your ability to
listen and understand the other person’s point of view.
4.Not identifying what is missing. That is, what isn’t said can be just as important as what is said.
5.Not clarifying what you just heard from the other person. We all have
our personal filters which impact interpretation during communications. Make
sure you ask questions to understand and then paraphrase back to the person
what you heard.
Leaders who practice these three communication skills build a reputation for increasing
employee performance and making better decisions. How often do you incorporate
these techniques of observing, inquiry, and listening, and how do you plan on
increasing and improving their use?
Beth Armknecht Miller’s is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and
leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant,
Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and
Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan,
and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Coach. Beth’s insight
and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in
numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit