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The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

As I transition into a technical leadership role, I haven’t been able to shake the guilt of how paternalistic it feels to tell others what to do. I don’t particularly appreciate receiving commands, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who does. I want to lead by example and through supporting others, not by power.

With that in mind, I’ve sought resources to foster high trust and psychological safety through coaching. To that end, The Coaching Habit prescribes seven questions to stay curious and wait to give advice:

What’s on your mind?

I’d started using this question before reading this book. Over the past year, I’ve found myself asking it to let others decide whether our conversation will focus on work or personal life, giving the space to have a non-work conversation when it’s more important. (Which has been pretty often during COVID)

And what else?

This question helps me stay out of the paternalistic trap of giving advice and commands. Instead, it keeps me curious and listening actively.

What’s the challenge here for you?

Some of these questions are as much reflective for me as not. I find myself thinking about this question as I take on increasingly less-defined problems with little to no precedent.

What do you want?

This question is straight out of Nonviolent Communication. Asking others what they are looking for in a conversation leads to surprising answers, with the most common being: “I just needed to get this off my chest.”

How can I help?

As an engineer starting to step away from writing as much code as I used to, I’ve found myself struggling to find my footing. Asking my colleagues how I can help them meet their needs has given me concrete ways to make a difference.

If you say yes to this, what must you say no to?

There is always more to do. More books to read. Code to write. Bugs to fix. Since we seem prone to be busy most waking moments of our days, it seems only logical that any additional commitments should come with equal and opposite cancellations!

What was most useful to you?

As a check and balance on coaching others, taking time to reflect while coaching others helps clarify what is working and what isn’t.