Become a Supercharged Leader With This One Book
I threw my face at over 100 books last year. A couple of those were classsics.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport changed how I thought about pursuing your passion in life and work.
Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff restructured the way I thought about selling, particularly how it pertains to the ever shifting mental frames that dominate our interpersonal psychology.
Then there was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, which is nothing short of a timeless classic which should be mandatory reading in school.
Some of the books I consumed were…how to put this nicely? Um…whatever the opposite of a classic is?
Most of those 100 books fell somewhere between the two extremes. That’s just the nature of the universe, after-all. We can’t all be above, or below, average.
We can’t all be outliers.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them and in the process improve ourselves just that little bit more.
So, of those 100 books, there were a lot of great books, but there was only one best. One book that stood above the rest.
One book that has, moreso than any other, improved my ability to guide other human beings through the minefield that is life.
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, & Forever Change The Way You Lead — Michael Bungay Stanier taught me 7 essential questions that transformed the way I think about my coaching practice, and I think they’ll do the same for you.
1) The Kickstart Question
“What’s on your mind?”
It’s such a simple introduction. No fluff. No chatter. Just straight to the meat.
We have a tendency to prime people towards our viewpoint. Whether it’s employees, coworker, friends, whatever, we often pose questions in ways that’ll lead back to what we expect to hear.
This can be especially problematic if the success of your endeavor relies on fielding a wide range of creative responses from a team that just keeps giving you what you expect to hear.
The simple question, “What’s on your mind?”, sidesteps all the priming. It gets straight to the point in a way that leaves the next conversational step in the hands of the other person.
They are now free to sift through the agenda of thoughts filtering through their brain to determine what’s meaningful to them, in that moment.
2) The AWE Question
“And what else?”
This question is surprisingly effective because people usually answer The Kickstart Question with the most superficial thoughts and concerns skimming the surface of their mind.
“And what else?” opens the conversational door just a little wider, giving the other person another opportunity to dig just a bit deeper.
Typically it’s after one or two iterations of the AWE question that you finally discover the golden nugget, the real underlying concern that needs to be addressed.
Asking The AWE Question feels strange at first, but trust that 1) it’ll get easier with time, and 2) it’ll help tremendously.
It’s not a bad idea to keep asking this question until you hit the point where the other person says, “That’s all I can think of.” Until you reach this point, you can only assume you’ve grasped the full-breadth of issues spiraling through their mind.
A good coach or leader never assumes. They keep asking until they know for sure all relevant issues are out there.
3) The Focus Question
“What’s the real challenge for you here?”
We often mistakenly assume we understand the problem far before we actually do, and rush into action.
We start throwing advice at their face because, we get it, we’ve been where they are, that’s why we’re in a position of mentorship, leadership, coaching, whatever.
But if you jump into problem solving mode, listing out what you see are the biggest obstacles facing the person across from you, then you do them a huge disservice, while making significantly more work for yourself.
Resist the urge to dive into problem-solving mode too early.
Ask The Focus Question instead and let the other person sift through the list of issues they previously stated in The Kickstart Question and The Awe question.
Executing this question effectively means the other person is doing all the hard mental lifting for you, slicing and dicing through the bulk of their issues, to get to the most pressing.
This is great for you, because it means when you do finally get to advice giving mode, it’ll be received all the more eagerly, and you can rest assured that it really will make a difference.
Don’t waste your time solving problems that aren’t actually problems.
4) The Foundation Question
“What do you want?”
I know, I know, you really, really want to dive into problem solving mode at this point, but again, that’s a mistake.
Understand that being a good mentor means giving advice far less often than most people think.
A skilled mentor guides their mentee to the answer of their own accord through a series of well considered questions.
This is the Socratic Method hard at work, and yes, it’s time consuming, but when it comes to developing the people around us, there is no shortcut.
So it is that The Foundation Question is critical. It gives the other person a chance to reflect on what they truly want as a desired outcome.
How will they measure success?
Why will they measure it that way?
What effect will solving this issue have on their life?
To effectively guide people through this question, it’s beneficial to understand The 9 Universal Needs underlying all our wants. Here’s an article on the topic you might find useful.
5) The Lazy Question
“How can I help?”
Finally, the rubber meets the road. This is where we, theoretically, get to help (if the other person requests it).
The value in The Lazy Question lies in the fact that what we perceive as being useful is quite different from what others might perceive as being useful.
Don’t just jump in thinking your helping. Sure, you might be right. But then again, you might just find you’ve interjected yourself in a way that is not only unwanted, but downright unhelpful.
Ask “How can I help you?” to really understand wha the other person expects and wants from you.
Here it’s important to note that, for your part, it’s okay to say “No”. Your time is valuable, and if there is something you genuinely don’t have the bandwidth for, say so.
Don’t make empty promises and then leave them unfulfilled.
There is no more certain way to erode the trust and reputation you’ve earned as an effective leader than to make promises you don’t keep.
If you do have to say no, offer alternatives. That is, after-all, what you’re there for: To help.
It might just be that the way they want help is not in alignment with your life, schedule, or priorities. That isn’t to say you can’t help in other ways.
The important part is to receive the other person’s concerns, show that you understand and care about what they‘ve shared, and offer a path towards the solution that’s in alignment with both your agendas.
Leaders who always say yes will quickly find themselves doing the work of the entire team, at a far-substandard level, all the while feeling increasingly burned out and frustrated.
6) The Strategic Question
“If you say “yes” to this, what are you saying “no” to?”
We touched on this in the previous question when it was up to you the mentor to decide how to help, but now it’s time for the individual you’re coaching to go through a similar exercise.
Don’t make overambitious plans that you can’t possibly hit.
Be clear and fair with your expectations.
Understand that you can’t do everything, and that often, something has to give.
Evaluate the list of tasks before us and deciding what we can and cannot do is one of the most valuable skills you can develop in life.
Remember, saying no to a thing is a way of saying yes to something else.
It means you’ve prioritized that other thing more highly, and that’s okay.
The problems arise when you simply say yes out of reflex and desire to not let anybody else down.
This is a surefire way to let everybody down. Oh, the irony.
7) The Learning Question
“What was most useful for you?”
This question is brilliant, because it enforces the Peak-End Rule which states that what happens at the peak, and at the end, disproportionately impact our perception of everything that came before.
So when you think back on a movie or a conversation, you’re most likely to recall what happened at the Peak and at the End.
Therefore, it’s vital that you end your meetings, conversations, and coaching sessions on a high point.
You do this by having the other person actively reflect on the Peak of the conversation, that is, the thing they found most valuable.
The brilliance of this question lies in the fact that the other person is doing all the work.
You don’t tell them what was valuable about the conversation, you elicit that response from them.
This sort of active retrieval process is a fundamental part of the learning process. As they say: “To learn, retrieve.”
The Learning Question might feel strange because on the surface it presumes the conversation actually was beneficial.
Trust me when I say, it was.
You might not have answered all their questions, you might not have thrown solutions at their face, but you’ve given the other person an opportunity to weed through the conflicting priorities vying for their attention.
You’ve helped them articulate the challenges before them, and helped them create an action plan towards achieving the task.
And you’ve done it all without ever telling them what to do, which means they’ll feel the increased sense of ownership for a solution that comes from having generated it yourself.
If that’s not great coaching, then I don’t know what is.
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