The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More Change the Way You Lead Forever

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Published: 3/1/2016
Coaching is an essential skill for leaders. But for most busy, overworked managers, coaching employees is done badly, or not at all.  They’re just too busy, and it’s too hard to change. But what if managers could coach their people in 10 minutes or less?

Book Summary - The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Key Insights

A good coach can help you to improve your life and enhance your career. Unfortunately, not all coaches provide employees with this kind of experience. The reality is that most employees rarely experience the benefits of an outstanding coach. As a result, they are more likely to think coaching won’t be of use to them.

To be an effective coach you have to be more than just someone who talks to people and hands out advice. You need to develop good relationships and understand the needs of those you are coaching. This means asking questions, initiating conversation, and finding out how you can be more useful to them. By implementing a good set of behaviors, you can become a better coach and in turn, you can improve the performances of your employees.

Key Points

Giving advice is not the same as coaching people.

Giving advice is part of being a coach but it is not all there is to it. If you want to be a coach that truly wants to help people you need to ask questions. While giving advice will enable you to lead the discussion, you should be prepared to listen and learn about other people.

One way to learn is to ask questions, but these can have a negative effect if they don’t encourage the other person to open up. The best approach is to develop your personalized coaching techniques and refine them. This means developing a method that helps you to bring out the best in people.

If you want to be effective in coaching people, develop an effective coaching habit.

It may seem like an obvious statement, but if you want to be effective in inspiring people, you need to develop good habits. When you are in a leadership role, your employees likely defer many decisions to you.

This can do a disservice to everyone involved. For you, it means more work and more responsibilities which can make you feel more overwhelmed than you should. For your employees, it can make them feel uninspired and sometimes they lose a sense of their own value at work.

The reality is that the deference to leadership is a habitual behavior that often occurs in workplaces. Research has shown that almost 50% of our actions are habitual. If you can develop the right coaching habits, you are more likely to influence employee work habits too. It will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and enable employees to be more independent.

Another benefit of good coaching habits is the improvement to work relationships. As employees become more independent through coaching, they are more likely to tackle difficult assignments. Ultimately, a lot of the burdens that are on you will be taken away as employees feel capable of handling tasks independently. Helping employees to become more autonomous is the mark of an effective coach.

To get the best out of people, there are seven important questions you need to ask.

As you develop your coaching habits, it is important to learn how to get the most out of people. Simply giving good advice is not enough. If you want to get the best out of your employees, you need to ask seven essential questions. These questions are designed to dynamically transform your employees and business. By incorporating them into your daily coaching habit will prove beneficial to everyone. These are the 7 essential questions:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • And what else?
  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • What do you want?
  • How can I help?
  • If you say yes to this, what are you going to say no to?
  • What did you find most useful?

You have to first ask the right questions to allow people to feel comfortable and begin opening up.

To start a focused conversation, you should ask the kickstarter question. Start with a simple question: What’s on your mind? This allows you to open up a conversation by putting the other person in charge of its direction. Using the kickstarter question also gets to the purpose of the conversation directly and prevents you from being mired in superfluous small talk. It also allows the other person to discuss their most important issues and feel like they are being heard.

Once the discussion has begun, take the opportunity to ask the second essential question: And what else? This is most probably the most important and effective question to ask. It not only shows that you are willing to listen but also gives the other person more confidence to open up more. More importantly, this question turns you from simply giving advice to actively encouraging others to communicate more freely.

Don’t lose sight of the purpose of the conversation and what you’re there for.

If the conversation goes off track or loses momentum, you can incorporate a focus question. You can direct the conversation with this question: What’s the real challenge here for you? In doing so, you can help to isolate the problem the other person has. Asking “what” instead of “why” is more constructive and less likely to put the other person on the defensive.

As the conversation evolves you can ask a foundation question: What do you want? You are getting an idea of their needs. Like the focus question, it addresses the main issue but sometimes this question can be challenging for employees to answer. When you ask this question you’re assuming the other person already knows how to respond. If they can’t answer properly, then you can explore the reason they’re asking for something in the first place. This will help you have a much better idea of how you can coach them.

One of the biggest hurdles is how to effectively save time. As a coach, you need to make sure your time is used productively and you do not become mired in aimless discussions. There is a simple question you can ask: How can I help? It can reduce a lot of procrastinating because it gets straight to the point of the conversation.

It’s known as a lazy question because it requires the other person to provide you with all of the details before you commit to taking action. It is a direct approach and is an excellent way to prevent your time from being wasted.

On the other side of the lazy question is a more complex variation that you can ask. The more complex question: If you say yes to this, what are you going to say no to? This can be a strategic question that forces the other person to analyze why they are making specific choices.

Your wording of the question asks the person to clarify their decision but without putting them in a defensive position. It will allow you to provide more in-depth coaching for the other person, helping them to think critically about the actions they want to take, and any potential implications it may have for them.

The final effective question is the learning question. Basically, you’re asking the other person what has helped them the most. You ask: What did you find most useful? By doing this, you’re requiring the other person or people to engage in the discussion. The benefit is that it makes the other people make an effort to learn from what you’re saying and learn from it.

Words matter when it comes to coaching conversations.

Asking questions is essential to coaching. However, you need to understand the difference between asking for more information and advice disguised as a question. Choosing your words carefully when posing a question can greatly improve your coaching abilities.

If you commit to using the seven questions regularly, you’ll have a greater impact on those you coach. You’ll be able to reduce the number of aimless conversations you have and get a better understanding of an employee's needs.

If you want to be a really successful coach, you will have much better success by engaging others and encouraging them to share their ideas. When you only advise without trying to understand what your employees need or want, you will have very little impact.

Think of every opportunity as a coaching opportunity.

You should take every opportunity you can to motivate and encourage your employees. Whether it is by email or just a quick conversation in the hallway, you can turn that into an effective coaching moment. It can be as simple as asking the Kickstart question, but it is an opportunity to engage with your employees and enhance their abilities.

As you begin to implement good coaching techniques into your daily life, you’ll notice improvements in your employees. This is a result of you becoming adept at using the seven questions in conversations and developing strong, nurturing relationships in the process. Now, your employees have the benefit of someone who doesn’t just give advice but helps them improve their performance. And you now have a solid coaching technique that will stay with you.

The Main Take-away

A coaching habit requires you to empower the person you’re coaching to see where they need to go and how to get there.

Being an excellent coach is more than just offering your employees advice and bits of personal wisdom. It’s about developing a relationship with employees that empowers them and provides them with greater autonomy. By asking seven important questions and listening to your employees, you create an environment in which you are much more capable of being an effective coach.

About the Author

Micheal Bungay Stanier is a best-selling author and founder of the development company, Box of Crayons.

Bungay Stanier is also an accomplished keynote speaker who has spoken in front of thousands of people on a variety of stages around the world. He has regularly spoken at the International Coaching Federation conferences and the International Association of Facilitators.

A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Bungay Stanier has won numerous awards including the Canadian Coach of the Year and he has been named the Coaching Guru of the Year every year since 2014. In 2019, he was shortlisted for the Thinkers50 coaching prize.

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