The Coaching Habit

Summary Written by Alyssa Burkus
"Call them forward to learn, improve and grow, rather than just get something sorted out."

- The Coaching Habit, page 41

The Big Idea

Leaders Need To Make Coaching A Habit

"To build an effective new habit, you need five essential components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective practice, and a plan."- The Coaching Habit, page 18

Before getting into the details of how to coach effectively, the book starts with guidance on how to make coaching part of your regular routine. As the author notes, there’s no point spending time on building a new skill if you don’t change your behavior at the same time. By working through the steps, from defining the reasons for starting to coach and when you intend to use it, to beginning to practice on a smaller basis before moving into using it more broadly, you’ll develop a routine that ultimately becomes a habit.

The final step in building a habit is having a plan for knowing how you will recover quickly if you forget to use your new skill. Rather than giving up if you keep forgetting to do it, identify two or three phrases (such as saying “but before we get to my thoughts, what ideas do you have so far?”) to allow you to recover and get back on track.

If you’ve been avoiding coaching in your role because you think you need to take a course or spend lots of time learning a difficult new skill, the book gives you an easy way to get started. It’s simply knowing what to say.

Insight #1

Begin Coaching By Asking Questions

"Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who's managing the fire."- The Coaching Habit, page 40

It can’t be much easier than this: when you’re asked “how should I do this?”, your response should be to ask guiding, probing questions that help the individual uncover the right answer.

The author gives us seven great questions to use in various combinations to create powerful coaching conversations.

The Seven Essential Coaching Questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?”
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?”
  3. The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?”
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful to you about this conversation?”

If someone comes to you to ask for a few minutes, open with “What’s on your mind?” If they ask what they should do, try saying “What’s the real challenge for you with this?” You can see how the flow keeps the ownership for what to do next with the person who raised the issue.

In addition to getting in the habit of asking questions, there’s one other habit you need to build.

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Insight #2

Tame The Advice Monster

"Even though we don't really know what the issue is, we're quite sure we've got the answer they need."- The Coaching Habit, page 61

One of the reasons we need to move away from giving advice and coach instead is we don’t always know what’s best, or have full information about the situation that requires a solution. The author takes the point further with a blunt haiku:

Tell less and ask more.
Your advice is not as good
As you think it is.

“When we’re in Rescuer mode,” the author explains, “we’re constantly leaping in to solve problems, jumping in to offer advice, taking over responsibilities that others should rightfully keep for themselves. We do it with good intentions . . . [but there’s] the price that’s being paid by both sides. You’re exhausted – and they’re irritated.”

Staying out of advice mode and instead using one of the essential coaching questions allows the ownership and accountability for solving the problem to stay with the person who has the issue. It’s win-win because they feel more empowered to solve it on their own and you can get back to your own to-do list.

If you’re reading this and thinking none of it applies to you because you aren’t a manager, you’re in luck. Everyone can be a coach and use the questions from this book. When a colleague comes to you for advice (and perhaps secretly wanting you to jump in and help do the work), instead of offering solutions, try using one of the seven coaching questions and see how the conversation moves forward in a very different way.

Read the book

Get The Coaching Habit on Amazon.

Michael Bungay Stanier

“An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” George Orwell

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