What I’m Reading: The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

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It was nice to have some downtime over the holidays to catch up on reading. One book I enjoyed was The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, by Michael Bungay Stanier.

Stanier is founder and creator of Box of Crayons, a coaching organization that works with executive teams at top companies around the world. He specializes in what he calls “10-minute coaching.” I like his to-the-point style and in this book, he offers up seven basic questions leaders can use to help those they manage find solutions within themselves. As a coach, I believe that there are basic techniques we use that can be useful to anyone in a mentoring relationship. These questions can even work for parents.

Too often, when we are working with our teams, partners, or families, our tendency is to jump straight to problem-solving. Hey, we’re busy. We need to fix things. We know what’s right. Let’s cut to the chase. And, surely, if someone is coming to us with a problem they want us to fix it for them. Right?

It’s Really About Holding Space

Believe it or not, asking questions and holding space for those we are partnering with in either business or personal life can be the most efficient way to solve a problem. Stanier’s basic questions enable you to hold that space for the person coming to you. Quite often, telling someone how to do something isn’t going to get them out of a rut; in addition, telling them what to do may create resentment and other issues.

Asking questions and having them look inward helps creates a relationship based on trust. Plus, there’s a double bonus: by asking the right questions, not only do you help the person coming to you figure the problem out in their own way, but you also develop your own leadership skills.

I really like Stanier’s direct and lighthearted style. It made this book very easy to read and understand. And my favorite question of the seven is what he calls the Focus Question: “What is the real challenge here for you?” I often ask this question in another way, but I like the simplicity of his phrasing and will start posing it in my coaching conversations.

A Good Start

The takeaway from this book is a basic toolkit of questions to ask when you are presented with a problem. If you put these into practice, it will enable you to hold space for the person coming to you. While these may not be the entire set of questions you’d need, it’s a start toward forging a healthy partnership with your direct reports and colleagues, and deepening your own skills as a mentor and a leader.