The Coaching Habit; Just ask the right questions. 

Coaching your employees is a critical tool for your direct reports growth and your organizations success. Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, covers seven questions that, when followed, will profoundly change your leadership game. Unlike other coaching training that’s overly theoretical, too complicated, a little boring and divorced from the reality of your busy work life, Bungay Stanier contends that the New Habit Formula, Seven Essential Questions and Masterclass Exercises of his Coaching Habit provide quick and practical ways to elevate the way you work and lead.

Form Your New Habit With These 7 Essential Questions

Question #1, The Kickstart Question

A good opening line can make all the difference. Get straight to the point. Starts fast and delivers the punch of a great first line: “What’s on your mind?” It’s about getting quickly to the thing that matters most, and this opener dissolves tired agendas, sidesteps small talk and defeats the default diagnosis. Question #1 is also the first half of what author Michael Bungay Stanier calls The Bookend Questions.

Question #2, The AWE Question

Leave no investigative rock unturned: “And what else?” may seem like three innocuous little words, but it’s actually The Best Coaching Question in the world. That’s because the first answer is never the only answer and rarely the best answer. There are more answers to be found and possibilities to be generated. And equally as important, it slows down the “advice monster” – that part of every manager that wants to leap in, take over and give advice/be an expert/solve the problem.

Question #3 The Focus Question

“What’s the real challenge here for you?”  It gets to the heart of the challenge at hand. Busy managers have to grapple with the continuous desire to tackle every problem themselves, and this question slows down the rush to action so that they spend time solving the real problem, not just the first problem.

The first three questions combine to form a powerful script for any coaching conversation, short or long, performance-review formal or water-cooler casual. The key is to start strong, provide the opportunity for the conversation to deepen, and then bring things into focus.

Question #4 The Foundation Question

“What do you want?”  It gets you thinking about how you can influence the environment that drives engagement. The easy-to-remember TERA Quotient (hint: employees who feel safe and autonomous are happier, more productive people who do better and more meaningful work) summarizes and applies what Evan Gordon calls the “fundamental organizing principle of the brain”: the risk-and-reward response.

#5, The Lazy Question

How can I help?  works in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request, by first forcing her to get clear on what it is she wants or needs help with. Second, it is a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy – it prevents you from spending time doing things you think people want you to do.

#6, The Strategic Question

If you’re someone who feels compelled to say Yes to every request or challenge, then is for you. Overwhelmed and overcommitted, you’ve lost your focus and spread yourself too thinly. This is why you need to ask: If you’re saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to? A Yes without an attendant No is an empty promise. This question helps make the promise real.

#7, The Learning Question.

It helps finish the conversation with a sense of accomplishment and meaning on all sides. Asking “What was most useful for you?” is an effortless way to reinforce learning and development. By asking people to identify and reflect on the process, this question helps to create the space in which insightful moments of learning can occur. The question also assumes that the conversation was helpful, providing a naturally meaningful conclusion to your robust coaching script.

Incorporated into your coaching habit, these questions have the potential to transform your weekly check-in one-to-ones, your team meetings, your sales meetings and (particularly important) those non-meeting moments when you just bump into someone between scheduled events.

What are you waiting for? Stop defaulting to old habits, and discover the power of these transformative questions that will help you unlock your inner coaching genius.

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