3 Quick But Effective Questions To Turn a Manager Into A Coach Suman August 11, 2016

3 Quick But Effective Questions To Turn a Manager Into A Coach

The perennial debate is whether managers should also double up as coaches. The debate arises since coaching is looked at as an elaborate activity in itself. But you will be surprised to know that coaching can be quite simple. When I shared this article from Forbes on 7 quick coaching Questions for managers by Michael Bungay Stanier, I also bought it to read it for myself. And I am quite impressed. The book not just talks about those 7 questions but also makes it so easy to include coaching in your everyday routine. Although this post is about the first 3 powerful questions that can be a  coaching session in themselves. I think I will do the book injustice and give you incomplete information if I left out the critical bit about developing a habit. Put together, you can really be a manager and a coach to your team.

Before we develop the coaching habit, it is important to understand why coaching usually doesn’t form a part of managerial duties even if we are trained in it. Stanier comes up with 3 important reasons for this:

1. Your coaching training could have been “so theoretical and complicated” that it did not seem relevant to your everyday work

2. You just went back to the comfort of your old routine and never gave coaching a chance

3. It is way harder to just ask questions and not offer advice and so coaching did not seem like something you could really do.

There is an easy way to ensure that the coaching habit will actually stick this time. Just remember:

1. Coaching is simple

2. Coaching can be done in 10 minutes or less (wait till you read about the simple questions that will enable you do that!)

3. Coaching should be a daily, informal thing rather than a block-your-time kind of formal activity

4. You can gradually build a coaching habit to make it a part of your life

Doing this has a lot of benefits. Chief among them is breaking the 3 vicious cycles common at the workplace. Do you find yourself fire fighting all day as a manager? A coaching habit breaks the cycle of creating over dependence. If you are available to solve all the problems for your team, they will just want you to do it for them all the time. Secondly, do you find that the more important work lies neglected while you are busy trouble shooting for your team? Do you always find yourself with more work than time to accomplish it in? This is the second thing to get rid of – being overwhelmed. Third, all the other things that vie for your attention can disconnect you from challenges that really matter. If all this sounds like something you go through everyday or often, it’s time to don the hat of a coach.

Ready to start a coaching habit? Great! But how is this going to happen. Luckily, Stanier has a brilliant formula in place that will help you bring coaching into your conversations. The formula is:

When this happens… Write your trigger – moment, person, situation, feelings associated with your trigger

Instead of.…Write the old habit you want to stop doing.

I will...Write the new habit

As you read the book there is scope for you to write down your triggers for old habits and replace them with new habits. A quick detour into how habits work – there is a situation which triggers the old habit. The trigger is associated with some feelings, location or person. For instance, if a colleague peeps into your cabin and says he is stuck with something, you jump in to rescue with solutions and any other help required. The formula here gets you to understand those triggers so that you can change your reactions when that happens.

So let’s get started with the 3 questions which can help you start building a coaching habit:

1. The Kickstarter Question: What’s on your mind? This is a great conversation starter. Don’t fall into the trap of jumping into advice or action mode immediately. It’s an open question that invites people to talk. It’s a general question and yet focussed on what’s right on top of someone’s mind. Focus the conversation on the 3Ps in your conversation – Projects, People, Patterns (of work you’d like to change) to make sure you don’t go off track. Research behind this question shows that this question acts as a pressure valve for people to let out steam and express themselves.

How to build the new habit:

When this happens.. The trigger is usually the start of a conversation – with a colleague, a customer or any team member.

Instead of..Jump into advice, offer solutions, assuming what the issue is…

I will.. Ideally begin with this question to know more.

2. The AWE Question: And What Else? The question, in Stanier’s words, has “magical properties”. After the general rant in response to the the first question, this one brings the speaker more self awareness and you, more information. It also throws up more options and serves to buy you more time. This shuts the advisor in you up. This question reminds you to “Tell less and ask more”. Research shows that this question gives the speaker a chance to reflect on all that he said before and structure his thoughts.

When this happens..When you are tempted to start talking about the things someone just told you..

Instead of..using your old habit to advice or offer solutions

I will..restrain yourself and ask, “And what else?”


Coaching is an advice free zone where questions do all thew work (photo credit)

3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here? By now, your old instincts are kicking in. You think you totally understand the situation and have all the solutions to fix it. But hold on, as a coach, you still have some digging to do. This question helps you focus on the real problem and not the first problem that occurred to you. You can use different versions here – What’s the challenge? What’s the real challenge? What’s the real challenge for you? Research shows that adding ‘for you’ makes the question more personal and helps pin down the actual issue. Coaching now moves from just a performance oriented conversation to a development oriented question.

Remember to keep your conversation within the 3P framework. Discussing how bad a person is maybe a great gossip session but how to handle someone hard to work with is a coaching conversation.

When this happens.. The likely trigger is when you team is discussing a project and you think you know what the challenge is. Or a team member sharing where he/she is stuck

Instead of.. Rushing to action that should be taken to solve the problem

I will… Stop to ask and understand what exactly are people grappling with

This “1-2-3 combination” is a great script for a manager to start coaching his team. Open with the first question, check what else is up and then focus on finding the real challenge.

One of the best things about the book is that it makes it so simple to make coaching a part of your routine as a manager. Also, all the questions are research backed and ensure that asking them creates no hostility and facilitate a coaching conversation.

I’d recommend that you write down your triggers and new responses so that you are ready to be a coach right from your next conversation with your team.