The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Reviewed on , book by Michael Bungay Stanier

Centered around 7 great questions to help any conversation go from small-talk to output. But it isn’t just a checklist of answers for one-on-ones, it’s also filled with nuggets on building long-term memory, other mental models for management, pragmatic lessons from neuroscience, as well as useful analogies. Some of my favorites were how people typically put themselves in the position of a rescuer, victim, or prosecutor—either of which can be dangerous. It’s tempting to feel it’s a hero move to take it and “fix it,” but it has pernicious consequences. The questions are well thought out, and solve real problems: When people spiral negatively, you ask them: What’s the real challenge for you here? To take them back up. When they’re not generating enough options, you ask them: And what else? One of my favorite examples from the book is how when people are presented with two options; they make worse decisions than choosing at random. However, if a 3rd option is presented—they make much better decisions on average (I’m not sure how a study like that is conducted, but I definitely agree with this).

Another quote from the book that made me think was: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered all the productivity books in the world; the faster you dig, the faster the world keeps flooding in.” I observe this myself too, that more time in doesn’t yield more output—it often just generates more and less important work. It makes you say no less, without proportionally increasing output.

The big takeaway from this book is that it’s not your job to offer solutions, it’s your job to ask the questions that lead to solutions—that’s coaching. The book ends up referring to one of my favorite books, Make it Stick, how people generate memories by AGES: Attention, Generation, Emotion, Spacing. If people aren’t generating their own ideas and answers, they don’t remember them. I prefer the articulation in “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, of not trying to ‘add too much value’—although the book does use some of this vocabulary. It’s clear that the author is well-read in the management and leadership literature, it’s great to see books references and ideas iterated on.