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The Coaching Habit - Book Summary

By: Bungay Stainer

The Coaching Habit starts with the premise that it is the role of leadership to unlock the potential in others; “…it’s not enough just to get things done. You must help people do more of the work that has impact and meaning…”. To unlock potential, start with curiosity about the person or people you work with, not the problem they might bring you. We all have too much to do, and when we are busy, we are lazy - we’re not choosing what to do and what to focus on. By slowing down and being curious, as a manager, you can ensure that problems don’t get added to your to-do lists while empowering and growing the capabilities of your team.

Creating this environment requires you to put the advice to one side. Recognise that there is a place for advice at home and work. Effective leadership is about slowing down in your rush to provide answers and starting by fully believing that your colleagues are fully capable of solving the problems they bring you from within themselves. Don’t rush to answer questions. This is often, from experience, easier said than done. The Coaching Habit provides a framework to structure your conversations with colleagues based on proven coaching techniques that help you unlock your colleague’s potential in a short time. The result - and I’ve seen this for myself - is a more motivated and engaged team.

The framework:

What’s on your mind? The starting question. Don’t ask more, don’t ask your colleagues to explain the ins and outs in detail - ask them what’s on their mind. The listen for the answer - depending on the complexity of the answer, you might ask a framing question, for example: “Okay, so there are three different aspects we could look at – the project side – questions around the content; the people side – concerns with team, colleagues, other departments, client, etc., that are causing an issue; patterns – things that you are doing that are making it difficult to show up in the best possible way. Where would you like to start?”

And what else? Go deeper as your colleague talks about their problem, and avoid the urge to offer advice. Ask, “and what else”. It’s amazing how this will lead to more thoughts and more thinking. Example questions might be: And what else might be possible? And what else is a challenge here for you? And what else could you do?

What’s the real challenge here for you? This is the focus question. It's all about getting the person to focus on what they want to change. It might be a person or some blockage in their environment. It may be personal, about their working habits, but it's for them to articulate.

What do you want? The magic question, having expressed the problem, and challenge, ask them what they want. What do they want to change? Is it about having more power or authority over a problem, finding a way to manage expectations, or engaging more effectively? What do you hear? What is the need that is behind this answer?

How can I help? This is a focusing question. You are looking for what you can do for them or why they came to you. Be careful. You don’t just say yes. Listen to the answer and decide if it’s something you can do, and even then, ideally, look for an alternative before taking on the responsibility yourself.

Solution focus. Back on your colleague or line report. If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? By getting someone to say no or explain what they are saying yes to, you are also defining the boundaries of what they will be doing. It's useful to frame this around – Projects (what activities/tasks will you give up); People (what expectations do you need to manage, which relationships do you need to let whither, etc.); and, Patterns (what habits do you need to break, what beliefs about yourself do you need to let go of?).

The question that will make it stick. What was most useful for you? This helps to set the learning in your colleague's mind and sets clear actions from this conversation.

The coaching habit isn’t arguing that you shouldn’t give advice. One role in management and leadership is to have answers, but you want to slow down the rush to answer all questions. Be curious about the other person and listen to what they are saying before jumping to conclusions.


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