Leadership Library Review: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead

October 2017

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
by Michael Bungay Stanier (Box of Crayons Press, 2017)

What are the big take-aways?

With robust humor, sneaky homages to A.A. Milne, and lots of pithy quotations from a multi-disciplinary array of wits, Michael Bungay Stanier makes one of the strongest (and most practical) arguments I’ve ever heard for why “You Need a Coaching Habit” in your workplace. As the blurb says, “This book gives you seven questions and the tools to make them an everyday way to work less hard and have more impact.”

What’s the biggest take-away? The author writes on page 59, “If this were a haiku rather than a book, it would read:

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

Why do I like it?

The Coaching Habit is funny, astute, quick-to-read and – in my professional coach’s opinion – focuses on the right things. In my view, effective coaching by a leader in the workplace is direct, deeply curious, and doesn’t try to take over someone else’s problem by relating to it or prejudging it or imparting wisdom about how to fix it. This is hard to do! It can require breaking habits that are deeply-ingrained, persistent, and seem to actually work really well (in the short-term).

I especially appreciate the coaching habit discussed in Chapter Two, “The AWE Question.” In fact, it’s a question that I use in various forms at some point in almost every coaching session: “And what else?” (A.W.E.) I notice that if I repeat it a few times, I can reach the borders of my client’s creativity – and occasionally beyond that, to his growth edges – until he inspires himself by giving voice to fantastic ideas he had been suppressing out of a fear they would sound scary, unrealistic, or nuts. Often, these ideas are the seeds of real breakthroughs. Equally importantly, if not more so, they are inevitably ideas I never would have thought of, myself.

In what situations would this be useful?

Maybe you’re a leader who thinks that coaching is not her style. Well then, this is the book for you! I recommend The Coaching Habit to any leader, because its strategies can swiftly make you happier and more effective than ever in your role; and even if you read the book and choose not to adopt new habits, then at least you are making a conscious decision rather than sleepwalking in reliance on all the default behaviors that you have – understandably – accumulated over the years.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

A couple of my other favorite coaching books for leaders include Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library) and Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore (4th ed., Nicholas Brealey, 2011). I successfully used Whitmore’s GROW (i.e., Goals, Reality, Options, Will) model when it was chosen by my client as the basis for an in-house coaching program I helped to pilot at a large international nonprofit.

Another great book about how to change certains habits, beyond the workplace context, is Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2008); you can preview it in this excellent blog post at Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” website.

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