From the time we are young, we hear terms such as “coach”, “stepping up to the plate”, “team player”, and “keep your eye on the ball.” As children, these terms are typically meant to guide us in succeeding (or failing) at our first attempts in the realm of organized sports—often much to the joy, or dismay, of our parents and families. We also hear a lot about “habits” as children, and the word “habit” is mostly associated with bad things such as talking back, sneezing without covering our mouths, nail biting, or other unsavory behaviors.
As we grow into adults and become productive members of the working world, these terms (“coach” and “habit”) take on a whole new meaning, especially for those of us who manage people. Many of us start as “green” managers with the best intention of developing our people, conducting regular team building events, having regular employee check-in meetings, and ultimately helping our teams grow professionally and personally so we can all best serve our organizations. We want to help our people (and ourselves!) develop good habits and coach people to do positive things. And although I don’t think anyone purposely says “coaching is no longer a priority,” or “I don’t have time to develop my own good habits yet alone those of others,” often the 24/7 demands of business take over, and employee development, good habit building, and/or coaching, take a back seat. That back seat probably isn’t good for us, our teams, or our organizations.
In his book, titled The Coaching Habit/Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier demonstrates how coaching can become a regular, informal part of our day by sharing seven questions that can make a difference in how we lead and support.
Bungay Stanier’s writing style makes the book an easy and quick read. He interjects humor into the text and lays the book out in a format that makes it easy to absorb and retain the information presented. After the introductory chapters, the book is broken into sections based on seven questions. You get the question, information on how to apply it, a worksheet space to think about your old and new habits, and a neat and tidy wrap up that guides you to additional online video resources should you choose to explore the topic further.
Throughout the book, full pages are dedicated to highlighting pertinent questions, applicable quotes, and other easily digestible takeaways. I’m convinced you could scan this book in 30 minutes and still take away actionable advice. The questions that Bungay Stanier asks you to consider as a coach aren’t complex, and they certainly aren’t questions you haven’t thought about before, but he puts them together into a systematic approach that you can apply in a multitude of different settings—from formal performance meetings, to everyday hallway conversations. Starting with something as simple as “what’s on your mind?” (The Kickstart Question) and ending with “what was the most useful thing for you?” (The Learning Question), you quickly get a rubric to follow to help you get more out of your communications with others.
So what if I don’t manage people? I’m an admissions officer and spend my days recruiting, reviewing applications and talking to people versus formally leading them. Great! Bungay Stanier’s approach to coaching works in many of these situations as well. The questions and tactics can easily help guide a conversation with an applicant or an interview to help both the school and the candidate get more useful information in an efficient way! The skills great coaching require also translate easily to the things that help us make the best choices in admissions as we get to know and really listen to our applicants and students. By using these skills regularly, we’re building a habit of coaching.
While Bungay Stanier doesn’t provide the “magic bullet” so to speak, the book really does a good job giving some basic guidelines that can really help people at all stages in their career. Even if you don’t buy into the system offered it will at least get you thinking about how you coach and what might work for you.
I’ve challenged myself in 2016 to give my role as a coach more of a front seat as I move through the next year and hopefully get into a habit of coaching more regularly. I’ve written all seven questions on the whiteboard in my office as a constant reminder to listen more, listen better, and ask the right questions to lead the conversation in the right direction. I challenge you to do the same and give The Coaching Habit a shot. With luck, it won’t be just another book on your shelf.
About the Author
Stacey Dorang Peeler is the MBA Admissions Director at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University.