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

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Stanier (Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016).

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The Coaching Habit Synopsis

Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit teaches readers the importance of effective coaching at all levels of the organization. He takes an approach of building coaching as a habit as a way to effectively mentor team members. Instead of giving advice, Stanier’s approach stresses asking seven questions to help team members dig deeper. By leveraging these questions, managers can have meaningful and effective conversations with their team members, thus elevating their skills. In turn, employees become masters at their jobs and are able to gain more fulfillment out of their careers.

Key Idea #1: Coaching Versus Managing

In the book, an important distinction is made between coaching and other forms of managing. Coaching requires that one asks questions rather than provide advice. This is different from similar types of engagement, such as management and or mentorship, where the content of the conversation is primarily advice-driven. Coaching enables leaders and managers alike to understand the thinking of their team members.

Good coaching empowers employees with the ability to master the skills required for their job. Additionally, it should not breed a dependence between the employee and the coach.

Key Idea #2: Common missteps of coaching for managers

There are many reasons why good coaching is unavailable to many. First, many managers receive poor coaching from their mentors and or superiors. Unfortunately, this poor experience serves as the primary example of coaching, which the manager then replicates for their team members.

Second, it is difficult to quantify the value of good coaching. Managers cannot see the relevance and impact on the day-to-day lives of individuals. As a result, they dismiss the need to coach team members.

Finally, managers generally from time poverty. They may not invest the time to developing a coaching habit and/or actually coach their team members as it is simply not a priority for them.

This is unfortunate because good coaching can occur in a matter of minutes. Managers who invest the time into developing their coaching habit, quickly learn that effective coaching can be done ad-hoc and within minutes. Furthermore, good coaching enables team members to become masters at their job. This increases employee job satisfaction, which can lead to higher productivity

Key Idea #3: The Advice Trap

Many managers who try to coach fall into the advice trap. This is where managers prefer to provide team members with advice rather than probe with questions. Managers prefer this as it is a quick way to solve their team member’s issues. Furthermore, managers like advice because it allows them to remain in control of the conversation. Together, the manager can feel like they are helping their team members, even if the advice they give is irrelevant and or the team member doesn’t take it.

Good coaching is a series of questions. Managers stray from good coaching because asking questions takes longer. Additionally, asking questions requires that managers relinquish control to the team members. These two factors together make it difficult for managers to feel like they are helping.

Key Idea #4: Elements For Developing the Coaching HabitThe Coaching Habit

Stanier believes that effective coaching comes when leaders develop this into a habit. There are five elements that make up a coaching habit. They are:

  1. A reason – this is the motivation for changing one’s behaviour. If there is no answer as to why to do it, people will simply not do it.
  2. A trigger – understanding what triggers your previous behaviour is important for developing new habits. By understanding triggers, one can understand what the drivers of the current behaviour are and learn how to potentially avoid them or build habits that do not hit these triggers.
  3. A micro-habit – for habits to be effectively adopted, they should take less than a minute to complete.
  4. Effective practise – habits require repetition. Develop your habits by repeating them and doing so in different variations. For example, you can do the same habit fast, slow, and even backwards.
  5. A plan – we all revert to our old ways sometimes. In these moments, do not give up. Instead, continue to identify the trigger of the old habit and defining the new.

Key Idea #5: Seven Essential Questions

The Kick Start – “What’s on your mind?” – This question opens the conversation to allow the team member to bring forward what concerns them the most. There are typically three areas that may be important: projects, people, and patterns.

The AWE – “And what else?” – This question is meant to push the team member—asking them “and what else?” will force them to be mindful and dig deeper. This will also help managers gain a better understanding of why the team member is bringing forward the topic.

The Focus – “What is the real challenge here for you?” – This question digs deeper into the team member’s reason for engaging with you. In many cases, this may be the most important question, as it reveals what their true feelings and or concerns are.

The Foundation – “What do you really want?” – This nudges the team member to dig deeper into telling the manager what their true challenge is. When managers understand what the team member really needs, they are in a better position to help.

The Lazy – “How can I help?” – Simple and effective. Asking this question prevents managers from falling into the advice trap. Instead, they cut through small talk and go straight for the team member’s ask.

The Strategic Question – “If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to?” – This question prompts the individual to reflect on the implications of their choices.

The Learning Question – “What was most useful for you?” – This question imposes reflection upon the team member. Doing this ensures that everyone finds something meaningful from the session.

Key Takeaways

  • Coaching is inherently different from mentorship as coaching focuses on asking questions to understand how team members think rather than giving advice.
  • Poor coaching has a trickledown effect in an organization. Thus, senior leaders should invest in finding good coaches for their managers so that they can replicate good coaching amongst their team.
  • Leaders and managers alike should adopt the seven questions as part of their coaching toolkit in order to elevate team members to become masters of their careers.

The Coaching Habit Author: Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Australian-born founder of Box of Crayons. After attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, Stanier began his journey in coaching. A skeptic at first, he eventually moved to the United States and then Canada to learn more about the rising industry. Soon after, he started Box of Crayons, a coaching firm that focuses on equipping managers with easy and quick coaching tools.

Related Readings to The Coaching Habit:

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical leadership education. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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