7 questions that’ll make you a better coach & leader (review of The Coaching Habit)

This review first ran in the May 18th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

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

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Box of Crayons Press

$16.95

I’m a good advisor but a pretty lousy coach.

Confusing these roles is how I get myself into trouble and annoy the people I try to help.

It’s an occupational hazard. After working in public relations for 25 years, I’m very much in what author Michael Bungy Stainer calls the advice-giver / expert / answer-it / solve-it / fix-it mode.

This mode doesn’t translate well to coaching.

It’s why I give answers to questions you haven’t asked and have solutions to what you don’t see as a problem. I’ll preemptively offer to save the day even when you have the situation well in hand.

To become a better coach, I need to talk less and listen more. Instead of having answers and offering up unsolicited advice, I need to start asking smarter questions.

Bungay Stainer, the founder and CEO of a company known for teaching 10-minute coaching to leaders, knows what questions effective coaches should ask.

“The seemingly simple behavior change of giving a little less advice and asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult,” says Bungay Stainer. “You’ve spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it. You’re seen to be ‘adding value’ and you’ve the added bonus of staying in control of the situation.

“On the other hand, when you’re asking questions, you might feel less certain about whether you’re being useful, the conversation can feel slower and you might feel like you’ve somewhat lost control of the conversation (and indeed you have. That’s called ‘empowering’).”

Bungay Stainer says the essence of coaching is helping others and unlocking their potential. It’s also the key to avoiding overdependence.  When you train people to become excessively reliant on you for answers, you disempower them and frustrate yourself. You become swamped with work, turning yourself into a bottleneck while everyone around you loses momentum and motivation.

“The more you help your people, the more they seem to need your help. The more they need your help, the more time you spend helping them.”

So instead of having all the answers, stick to asking one or more of the following seven questions:

What’s on your mind? Bungay Stainer calls this the kickstart question. It’s an almost fail-safe way to start any conversation with someone who’s asking for help. “It’s a question that says let’s talk about the thing that matters most.”

And what else? This is the AWE question and it’s the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities. “With seemingly no effort, it creates more – more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities – out of thin air.”

What’s the real challenge here for you? Asking the focus question will save you from wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem. “When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is that what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual question.”

What do you want? This is foundation question. “Recognizing the need gives you a better understanding of how you might best address the want.”

How can I help? This is the lazy question which forces your colleague to make a direct and clear request and prevents you from immediately leaping into action.

If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to? This is the strategic question. It’s been said that the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. “A ‘yes’ is nothing without the ‘no’ that gives it boundaries and form.”

What was most useful for you? This learning question should close out your conversations. “Not only do you help people to see and then embed the learning from the conversation, but by your finishing on a ‘this was useful’ note, people are going to remember the experience more favourably than they otherwise might.”

With each of his seven questions, Bungay Stainer also offers a master class in how to make effective coaching a habit. His book is a great resource for those of us looking to switch off our advisor mode, quit playing the all-knowing sage and superhero and do a far better job of helping the people around us find the answers to their questions and realize their full potential.

adice

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

 

 

Book review: Do More Great Work

This review originally ran in The Hamilton Spectator on Oct. 25.

Do More Great Work

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Workman Publishing Co ($14.95)

When coworkers suddenly start leaving to unexpectedly pursue other opportunities, playing it safe can seem like the smart bet.

So you stay well within your comfort zone. You make yourself busy and useful, sticking with productive work that’s familiar and predictable. Work where there’s little chance you’ll screw up. Work that you’ve done a thousand times before.

You settle for good work and take a pass on what author and senior partner in Toronto-based Box of Crayons Michael Bungay Stanier calls great work.

Great work takes a great deal of effort. Great work comes with a great deal of risk. Great work takes you to the outer edge of where you’re capable and competent, to a strange new world with a whole lot of uncertainty, self doubt and more than a little discomfort.

“The discomfort arises because the work is often new and challenging, and so there’s an element of risk and possible failure,” says Stanier. “It can be a time of uncertainty, groping forward when you’re not sure of where you’re heading. It can mean picking yourself up off the floor and carrying on after the unexpected has just slapped you around a bit.

“The very nature of doing more great work means there will be times when you stumble, times you lose the path, times when you’re hacking through the jungle.”

So during a time of budget hacking, pink slips and unplanned pursuits of new opportunities, forgoing great work in favour of good work might seem like the better, smarter and safer bet.

But it’s not. And here’s two compelling reasons why.

All of us want to make a difference. To do work that matters. Work that makes an impact and has a real purpose beyond just earning a paycheque. We want our work, and our lives, to count.

That’s what great work delivers.

Great work is engaging and energizing. It inspires, stretches and provokes. Great work is where you’ll develop new skills and build new strengths.

“Great work is the work that matters. It is a source of both deep comfort and engagement – often you feel as if you’re in the ‘flow zone’ where time stands still and you’re working at your best, effortlessly. The comfort comes from its connection, its sight line, to what is most meaningful to you – not only your core values, and beliefs, but also your aspirations and hopes for the impact you want to have on the world.”

Doing great work is your best safeguard against falling into a rut and getting pushed off to the sidelines or out the door altogether. Great work will make you a more valuable and valued employee. And most important of all, great work will make you a happier and better person.

Not only is doing great work great for you. It’s great for your employer.

“For organizations, great work drives strategic difference, innovation and longevity. Often it’s the kind of inventive work that pushes business forward, that leads to new products, more efficient systems and increased profits.”

To find the great work that’s right for you, Stanier offers up a series of 15 exercises. You’ll start by figuring out where you are right now in terms of your mix of good and great work and what great work is best for you.

“You don’t need a coach or a shrink or a consultant or a weekend retreat to figure out how to do more great work,” says Stanier, who was named Canadian Coach of the Year in 2006. “You just need a pen, some paper, and a little bit of time to get clear on what matters and to build your own plan to do it.”

We spend more than half of our lives at work. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our employers and our community to make sure we spend as much of that time doing great work that matters and makes a real difference.