Saturday, July 31, 2021

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

Another aspect of enabling great team works is, becoming a good leader. In my pursuit to become a good leader I decided to read the book "The Coaching Habit Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever" by Michael Bungay Stanier. This post is a collection of notes from this book. 

Who is this book for?

At times when team members enter into a 1-to-1 session with their leaders, they are thinking "I look forward to being more confused and less motivated after my session with you". It is the leaders job to make the session not a complete and utter waste of time. This book gives you practical tools to become a better leader. Hence, everyone who is leading a team or is going to lead a team should definitely read this book.

Usual Disclaimer

This post is by no means a summary of the book, the notes mentioned here are extracts from the book. If you find these interesting, please pickup a copy of the book and give it a go.

Book Notes

You Need a Coaching Habit

Simple behaviour change of giving a little less advice and asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult. 

Coaching should be a daily, informal act, not an occasional, formal "It's Coaching Time!" event.

When you build a coaching habit, you can break out of three vicious circles that plague our workplaces: creating over dependence, getting overwhelmed and becoming disconnected. 

Over Dependence: You've trained your people to become excessively reliant on you, a situation that turns out to be disempowering for them and frustrating for you. 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.

Getting Overwhelmed: As you're pulled in different directions by proliferating priorities, distracted by the relentless ping of email and hustling from meeting to meeting, you lose focus. The more you lose focus, the more overwhelmed you feel. The more overwhelmed you feel, the more you lose focus. 

Becoming Disconnected: It's not enough just to get things done, you have to help people do more of the work that has impact and meaning. The more we do work that has no real purpose, the less engaged and motivated we are. The less engaged we are, the less likely we are to find and create Great Work. 

At the heart of the book are seven questions that will break you out of these three vicious circles. 

How To Build a Habit

A little more asking people questions and a little less telling people what to do. Before we look at what to change, we need to understand how to change. 

To build an effective new habit, you need five essential components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective practice and a plan.

Reason: Think less about what your habit can do for you, and more about how this new habit will help a person or people you care about. 

Trigger: If you don't know what triggers the old behaviour, you'll never change it because you'll already be doing it before you know it. 

Micro-habit: You should define your new habit as a micro-habit that needs to take less than sixty seconds to complete. It's about getting really clear on the first step or two that might lead to a bigger habit. 

Effective Practice: Practicing small chunks of a bigger action, Repetition, repetition and repetition, and finally being mindful and noticing when it goes well. 

Plan: Resilient systems build in fail-safes so that when something breaks down, the next step to recover is obvious. Make your habit a resilient system. 

There are three parts to the New Habit Formula: identifying the trigger, identifying the old habit and defining the new bheaviour. 

Identifying the trigger: There are 5 types of triggers: location, time, emotional state, other people, and the immediately preceding action. 

Identifying the old habit: Articulate the old habit, so you know what you're trying to stop doing.

Defining the New Behaviour: Define a new behaviour, one that will take sixty seconds or less to do. 

Ask One Question at a Time

Sometimes being on the receiving end of someone with a pocketful of questions can be unpleasant. Questions come hurling at you left and right, there's no time to answer any of them and you're left feeling dazed and confused. Some call it drive-by questioning. And rather than feeling like a supportive conversation, it has the unpleasant vibe of interrogation. 

Ask one question at a time. Just one question at a time!

1. The Kickstart Question 

One of the reasons managers don't coach more often than they do is that they don't know how to start. 

The Small Talk Tango: Small talk might be useful way to warm up, but its rarely the bridge that leads to a conversation that matters.

The Ossified Agenda: This situation is commonly found in standing meetings - same time, same people, same place, same agenda. It becomes a dreary recitation of facts and figures. 

The Default Diagnosis: There's no question or conversation about what the issue is. You're sure you know what it is. Or they're sure they know what it is. Or may be you both think you know what it is. But you're in the wrong hole. 

The Kickstarter Question: "What's on Your Mind?"

An almost fail-safe way to start a chat that quickly turns into a real conversation is this question. It's a question that says, Let's talk about the thing that matters most.

Decide which aspect of a challenge might be at the heart of a difficult that the person is working through. A challenge might typically be centred on a Project, a Person or a Pattern of behaviour. 

Projects: A project is the content of the situation, the stuff that's being worked on. It's the easiest place to go to and it will be the most familiar to most of us. 

People: Situations are always made more complex when you -  in all your imperfect, not-always rational, messy, biased, hasn't fully obtained enlightenment glory - have to work with others who, surprisingly, are also imperfect, not always rational, messy, biased and a few steps short of full wisdom and compassion. When you are talking about people you're talking about a relationship and specifically, about what your role is in that relationship that might currently be less than ideal. 

Patterns: Here you're looking at patterns of behaviour and ways of working that you'd like to change. They are personal and challenging.

2: The AWE Question

"And What Else?" the AWE question has magical properties. With seemingly no effort, it creates more-more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities-out of thin air. 

When you use "And what else?" you'll get more options and often better options. Better options lead to better decisions. Better decisions lead to greater success. 

We've all got a deeply ingrained habit of slipping into the advice-giver/expert/answer-it/solve-it/fix-it mode. Instead you need to have the best of intentions to stay curious and ask a few good questions. In short, even though we don't really know what the issue is, or what's going on for the person, we're quite sure we've got the answer she needs. 

When you're not entirely sure what's going on and you need just a moment or two to figure things out, asking "And what else?" buys you a little extra time. 

A strong "wrap it up" variation of "And what else?" is "Is there anything else?" that version invites closure, while still leaving the door open for whatever else needs to be said. 

In some ways, our unconscious brain counts like this: one, two, three, four...lots. That probably explains why we can remember the names of people in four-person bands, but not of those in bands of five or more. 

Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached. That doesn't count as asking question. 

3: The Focus Question

They could be describing any number of things: a symptom, a secondary issue, a ghost of a previous problem which is comfortably familiar, often even a half-baked solution to an unarticulated issue. 

Your team has trained you well to do their work for them. Any time there's a problem, rather than trying to figure it out themselves, they now come to you for the answer. 

Not only is the team overly dependent on you, but now you're feeling overwhelmed and you're slowing everything and everyone down. You've become the VP of bottlenecking. 

You need a way to manage the temptation to jump into fixing that opening challenge. Instead, ask the focus question: "What's the Real Challenge Here for you?"

It keeps the question personal and makes the person you're talking to wrestle with her struggle and what she needs to figure out. 

Resist the temptation to do the work and to pick one of the many challenges as the starting point. 

4: The Foundation Question

What do you want? "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place". The illusion that both parties to the conversation know what the other party wants is pervasive, and it sets the stage for plenty of frustrating exchanges. 

When you ask someone, "What do you want?" listen to see if you can guess the need that likely lies behind the person's request. 

Five times a second, at an unconscious level, your brain is scanning the environment around you and asking itself: Is it safe here? Or is it dangerous? When your brain feels safe, it can operate at its most sophisticated level. When the brain senses danger, there's a very different response. Here it moves into the familiar fight-or-flight response. 

If the brain believes that you're on its side, it increases the TERA quotient. If what's going to happen next is clear, the situation feels safe. Are you more important or less important than I am? is the question the brain is asking, and if you've diminished my status the situation feels less secure. If you believe you do have a choice, then this environment is more likely to be a place of reward and therefore engagement.

When you ask someone one of the seven essential questions, sometimes what follows is silence. Echoing, endless silence. Bite your tongue, and don't fill the silence. I know it will be uncomfortable, and I know it creates space for learning and insight. 

5: The Lazy Question

You want to "add value" and be useful. You like to feel that you're contributing. However, there
is being helpful, and then there's being "helpful" as in stepping in and taking over. And way too often, you get suckered into doing the latter. Your good intentions often end up contributing to the relentless cycle of exhaustion, frustration and ironically, reduced impact. 

There are three labels Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer, these aren't descriptions of who you are. They are descriptions of how you're behaving in a given situation. No one is inherently a victim, persecutor or rescuer. They are roles we end up playing when we have been triggered and in that state find a less than effective version of ourselves playing out. 

When we're in the Rescuer mode, we're constantly leaping in to solve problems, jumping in to offer advice, taking over responsibilities that others should rightfully keep for themselves. 

Lazy Question: "How Can I Help?"

This question forcing your colleague to make a direct and clear request. It also stops you from thinking that you know how best to help and leaping into action. 

One of the most compelling things you can do after asking a question is to genuinely listen to the answer.

6: The Strategic Question

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. "If you're saying Yes to this, what are you saying no to"

For most of us, there are two groups of people to whom it is easiest to say No. Those closest to us-spouses and kids- and those distant from us-event telemarketers. It's much harder to say No to everyone else. Which, unfortunately, tends to be everyone we work with. 

Saying Yes more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing. Which means asking more questions.

Do remember that strategy is about winning choices. It is the coordinated and integrated set of five very specific choices. As you define your strategy, choose what you will do and what you will not do. 

Remember to acknowledge the person's answer before you leap to the next question. You don't need to say much. It's about encouraging them and letting them know that you have listened and heard what they said. 

7: The Learning Question

People don't really learn when you tell them something. They don't even really learn when they do something. They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened. 

The Learning Question: "What Was Most Useful for You?"

The act of creating your own connections to new and presented ideas... When we take time and effort to generate knowledge and find an answer rather than just reading it, our memory retention is increased.

The learning question immediately frames what just happened as something that was useful and creates a moment in which to figure out what it was. 


I feel this book give a great head start in taming the advise monster in us. It gives us the right foundation to start our coaching habit. I absolutely loved it!

Have some Fun!