There comes a time, when a manager starts to mentor and coach the people in his team. But how does a manager become a successful coach? What does coaching entail and how should one make it effective?

The Coaching Habit (2016) by Michael Bungay Stanier simplifies the elements of effective coaching. Good coaching skills will not only help one’s team members to personally succeed but also pave the way for success for the coach too. A good coach goes beyond subjective training, and some coaches can even transform a life completely.

To become a good coach, one should be able to ask the right questions and have the correct habits of a coach to ensure that their teams are on the path to success. 

Spotting The Errors First

Research has shown that only about 23% of coaching seminars that managers attend have any positive effect on them. Additionally, many leaders, managers, and their teams get stuck in a cycle of unproductive work dynamics and habits. How does one identify what are these problems and more importantly, how does one solve them?

Here is a list of the common problems that are seen– 

  • All decision making on projects, whether it is a big one or a small one, lies with the manager / leader.
  • The manager / leader becomes the bottleneck.
  • Subsequently, the team loses motivation because they have no decision making power.
  • The manager / leader gets overwhelmed with work.
  • The sheer load makes it difficult for the manager / leader to understand which tasks are critical because all are!

If, as a manager, you can relate to even one of these problems, then you are stuck in the unproductive work dynamic.

To get out of this rut, you can first and foremost, develop a coaching habit. A coaching habit is nothing but putting coaching into practice on a daily basis. Managers should, rather than advise, coach their teams, and guide them towards the right path. The daily coaching should always take place in an informal setting, where the manager can reconnect with the team.

Another set of errors most managers make is to focus on performance. Coaching looks at the larger picture in long run. While performance is important, it can only be improved by guiding the team towards development. 

The Coaching Habit (2016) by Michael Bungay Stanier
The Coaching Habit (2016) by Michael Bungay Stanier

Having That Vital Conversation

Sometimes managers ‘feign’ attention when a team member is discussing an issue. While they nod their heads in comprehension, their minds are elsewhere. While this can happen without really meaning to, managers who wish to become truly great coaches should use constructive conversation tactics to start and maintain a conversation.

  • Kickstart Question – The kickstart question is an effective open-ended question that helps the employee steer the conversation. A simple ‘What’s on your mind?’ does the trick.
  • AWE – AWE stands for ‘And what else?’ Sometimes, it is evident that the employee has more to say and does not know if he should for reasons that could be as simple as not knowing if the manager has time. The AWE question is an encouragement, and at times handy if the coach wants to add in a comment.
  • The Focus Question – The focus question, ‘What’s the real challenge for you?’ is often used to guide the conversation back on track in case the employee is beating around the bush or loses the train of thought. Often, employees tend to vent over certain issues regarding certain projects. The focus question helps the employee to identify which issue is more challenging and needs prompt attention.

As a coach, it is essential for leaders to know that these questions nudge the employee into finding their own conclusions. Leaders and managers wanting to become coaches should be there to listen and guide rather than offer the solutions themselves.

Conducting The Conversation Correctly With Questions

While the previous heading discussed questions for triggering a conversation and to keep the focus on track, coaches need to have a few more successful questions in their arsenal. Stanier gives four important questions that help a coach understand what the employee needs, what they want, and most importantly what are they willing to do about it.

  1. The Foundation Question – The Foundation Question, ‘What do you want?’, is used to get the conversation straight to the point. It helps the coach understand what exactly the employee is looking for from the conversation. 

    Research shows that 9 types of needs and desires drive people. They are freedom, recreation, creation, affection, protection, participation, understanding, identity, and subsistence. Foundation questions will help in determining what drives the employee.
  1. The Lazy Question – The lazy question is a moment of positive coaching. The question ‘How can I help you?’ helps in determining if the employee really wants something or is letting off some steam. Being a direct, to-the-point question, the employee’s ability to answer it will not only get the answer but also help the coach respect the directness of the employee.

    It even helps the employee move on after letting off steam. From the employee’s perspective, it shows that the manager is interested in his needs and wants and that the manager understands him.
  1. The Strategic Question – Once the need/want is identified, the coach reaches a point in the conversation where he needs to know whether the employee can handle what he is approving. 

    Asking ‘If you’re saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to?’ helps the coach gauge whether the employee can take on a new project, whether he has the capacity to finish previous ones, and most importantly if the employee is accepting a decision simply because the manager is handing it out.
  1. The Learning Question – Once the conversation is nearing its end, it is important to know if the conversation has sunk in. To make the employee derive learning from the discussion, to reflect, and to internalize, the coach has to create a learning opportunity for the employee. Asking ‘what was most useful for you?’ will help achieve that.

The Manner Of Questioning

While it is essential to know what questions to ask during a coaching session with any employee, understanding how to question is more than half the battle won. Sometimes, without meaning to, a coach could end up blurting out the solution. Coaches need to be wary of that. 

Firstly, the conversation should never seem like an interrogation. Therefore coaches should be careful with the succession of questions as well as their implications. While a question should never intend to feel uncomfortable, it should be clear and to the point. To do this, asking ‘what’s?’ are more useful than asking ‘why’s?’

For example, it is better to ask, “What do you think?” rather than, “why do you think that?”

Avoiding rhetorical questions is equally important. These include questions such as, ‘did you consider…?’, or ‘have you thought…?’. Such questions are simply advice with a question mark.

Mannerisms and gestures also go a long way in making a conversation successful. There is a difference between listening and appearing to listen, and both are essential to keep the employee engaged in conversation. Listening is very important, whereas, appearing to listen – with a nod, or an encouraging silence after a question – can help the employee share what exactly on their mind without inhibition.

Forever Expert Coaching

In conclusion, managers and leaders should cultivate a habit of coaching. Cultivating a habit includes practicing coaching daily. While a few words can enlighten you and push you to learn how to coach, the tips mentioned above should become daily actions.

Changing habits involves putting theory in to practical use. This can be achieved in 5 steps – 

  • Cause – It is the reason to change the current behavior, for example, constantly advising. 
  • Trigger – Understanding the moments when advice is needed and when it is not. 
  • Mini habit – Understanding the errors, using appropriate questions and the correct manner of questioning are the mini habits.
  •  Training – Practicing mini habits daily becomes training. 
  • Action plan – An action plan is an outline of what a coach should do in cases of slips, to get back on track.

For developing a coaching habit, managers and leaders can create coaching support groups too. These support groups can be useful in sharing strategies and experiences so that they can create empowered teams in their organization.