Book review: The Coaching Habit: say less, ask more & change the way you lead for ever

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Jamie Lawrence
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HRZone
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Title: The Coaching Habit: say less, ask more & change the way you lead for ever
Author: Michael Bungay Stanier
ISBN: 978-0978440749
Reviewer: David Evans, Burn Bridge Associates
Reviewer's rating: 4 out of 5

The Coaching Habit book

The first thing that strikes the reader about this book is the impressive array of reviewers providing laudatory comments – from Dan Pink, to Brene Brown and Dave Ulrich – which left me wondering: who is this guy?!

Well, the author is an Australian living in Toronto who studied in Oxford, England. His writing betrays a supreme confidence in his grasp of the subject-matter (which is reassuring) and he writes with brevity in a colloquial and accessible style. It is not written in an academic form, although it has plenty of academic references and uses the author’s business resources (Lindsay, his researcher-colleague) to support the key messages.

The underlying fundamental of this book is that coaching is a managerial / leadership imperative, and every manager-leader fails to recognise this at their peril. Managing and leading people in today’s business world requires a suite of personal approaches and styles, but the coaching approach is so powerful and instrumental in delivering effective outcomes and engendering employee commitment that understanding the most appropriate ways of doing this is time very well spent – “the essence of coaching lies in helping others and unlocking their potential” (p7).

Bungay Stanier highlights three vicious cycles that managers easily slip into and which inhibit the realisation of potential for those around them. These are:

  • creating overdependence
  • becoming overwhelmed
  • becoming disconnected

Having a coaching approach gets people through these cycles.

The early part of the book is taken up with a number of lists of things to support the development of a coaching style. Three vicious cycles are followed by five essentials of habit-forming and three parts of new habit formation.

Finally, we get to the core: the 7 key coaching questions. Much of the rest of the text is devoted to the explanation of these essential questions. The ‘super seven’ are supported throughout by the interjection of ‘habit-builder’ tips and ‘question masterclasses’: these soundbites add texture and depth to the discussion on the killer coaching questions. Read the book and you’ll get the picture.

So, to the Business End of the book: those in the coaching space will know the ubiquitous GROW model and its derivatives. Bungay Stanier offers an approach that is consistent with GROW but targets a more specific question-set that drives the coaching intervention in a focussed and time-efficient manner.

Indeed, the author suggests early on that good coaching interactions can be done in the moment and over a 10-minute duration. At the same time, coaching intention should be clear – whether the interaction is one focussed on development or on a more specific performance issue.

The seven questions are simple, useful and very pointy for both coach and coachee. I like the maxim that Bungay Stanier repeats throughout the book: how does one stay as curious for as long as possible in the coaching interaction? And, I like the way that the author emphasises the need for the coach to be as specific as possible in asking questions; and then staying quiet enough to hear what is said and not said.

A particular lesson that I took from this explanation of the 7 essential questions is the acknowledgement that in order for the coachee to do something different something else may need to be stopped or deprioritised.

The coach is advised by the author to conclude a coaching session with the question “What was most useful for you?”. Doing this ensures that both coach and coachee take something away from the session: all too often, I suspect, the coach is so focussed on ‘doing good things’ that he / she forgets that every interaction is a learning opportunity.

Throughout, the book offers additional resources from Bungay Stanier’s company website: it is indeed replete with resources and gives budding and continually-learning coaches the opportunity to continue their journey outside the confines of the book itself.

In that way it is clearly a coaching book, in that it not only explains the techniques of good coaching it also coaches the reader gently towards the continuing learning pathway.

In summary, this is a very readable and straightforward book that will benefit those starting to consider the benefits of adopting a coaching style as part of their management / leadership skills-set. It will also challenge experienced coaches to reappraise their own coaching approach.

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