The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier

Why I read it

Every coaching course I’ve been on, and most coaching blogs that I’ve read, recommend The Coaching Habit as the go-to guide for coaching wins. It is renowned for its insightful advice and practical style. After hearing about it multiple times, I had to read it – now, after completing it twice, I’m certainly glad I did.

In summary

The Coaching Habit is indeed practical, charismatic, and personable. Most coaching books are heavy on theory and sincerity (quite rightly!) and much can be learnt from them; here, though, there is a tangible sense of the dynamism of coaching, and Bungay Stanier’s style, oozing from the page.

The premise of the book is twofold: primarily, to help you build a coaching habit in both your coaching conversations, and generally in day-to-day interactions – as Christian van Nieuwerburgh would say, ‘a coaching way of being’. Secondly, The Coaching Habit provides seven essential questions to use in coaching conversations; each question has its own chapter which explores how and why you should utilise said question.

While The Coaching Habit won’t teach you everything you need to know about coaching (you didn’t expect it to, anyway), you will feel empowered and enthused by the author’s ideas and style, and the conversation framework. This book lights fires – fires to improve your coaching, to improve your leadership, and to get out there and coach!

Key takeaways:

1. Why coaching doesn’t always take off – 3 possible reasons are cited as to why only 23% of people surveyed said that coaching had a significant impact on their performance at work or job satisfaction. 1. coaching training can be overly theoretical and detached from your working habits; 2.  you aren’t able to implement the ethos or practicalities of coaching into your workplace, for whatever reason; 3. it’s surprisingly hard to advise less and ask more! The book aims to address these issues by being ‘practical and fast’ and providing the seven essential questions as a conversation framework.

2. ‘And what else?’ – The AWE question itself. Those three little words have made my brain work harder than ever before when being coached. We tend to stop when we think we’ve hit on a good idea, or drawn a conclusion. Having a coach who challenges you with ‘and what else’ (and variations of the phrase), pushes you to think more deeply; just when you thought you were spent, the AWE question fires up new ideas and options. An essential addition to your repertoire, and one that Bungay Stanier provides plenty of advice for implementing.

3. Tame the advice monster – we like to give advice! We assume we have the answers, it makes us feel competent, and we feel more comfortable offering something rather than facing the ambiguity of asking a question. But we don’t know the answers. Our job is to remain curious, keep asking the right questions, and to help our coachee unlock their own potential. This is one of the hardest parts of being a coach, but ultimately it is what will make you a good one, and it’s how your coachee will get the most out of the conversations.

4.  ‘What’s the real challenge here for you’ – Bungay Stanier cites a fictional conversation in which a coachee wants to vent / moan about a colleague. The coach indulges them and bases the conversation around this colleague, who receives quite the critique.  However, while this colleague, or alternatively a project or other issue, is a challenge that needs to be addressed, the onus needs go back to how the coachee can take ownership of the situation. The question ‘what’s the real challenge here for you?’ stops conversations getting derailed and grounds them back in what the coachee can control – now it’s over to them to think through what they can do next.

5. The seven essential questions themselves are a brilliant guide for any coaching conversation. Below is a graphic of them, created by gunterrichter.com

Whether you are a coach, or a leader trying to adopt a coaching approach, these questions are deliberately worded to unlock the best thinking from the recipient. Bungay Stanier explains in detail why they work, and the different contexts in which you could use them.

Favourite quote

‘This book is about making you a leader, a manager, a human being who’s more coach-like. Which means building this simple but difficult new habit: stay curious a little longer, rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly’

Favourite moment

As I mentioned, The Coaching Habit aims to make changes to the way you lead and coach, often citing the ways we can change our habits (and the work of Charles Duhigg) and become more successful at applying the seven essential questions, and other principles.

After each section, we are met with the subheading: Here’s your new habit.

Followed by (with example filled in):

When this happens… I’ve got an answer to suggest the coachee

Instead of… asking fake questions such as ‘have you thought of…?’ which is just advice with a question mark

I will…. Ask one of the seven essential questions.

The aim is to take your less effective habits, for example when you want to offer advice, and replace them with a practical way of turning them into a positive action.

Read this if…

  • You are a coach looking to improve your practice
  • You are a manager or leader who wants to increase your team’s efficiency, resilience, autonomy and creativity by empowering them with brilliant questions and a coaching habit

My final thoughts are that this is a wonderful book – it truly amps up your desire to be a better coach and leader. Read it as part of a balanced diet of other coaching materials, too – for instance, more ‘traditional’ coaching books will guide you through coaching contracting and ethics, and the nuances of listening and noticing subtle cues from your coachee, among other things. But The Coaching Habit is an essential, dynamic, and inspirational addition to your coaching journey.

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