7 essential questions all great managers ask their employees

Guest Post by Michael Bungay Stanier

In my new book, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”, I put forward a radical proposition:

A busy manager only needs seven good questions to radically lift their leadership game.

And with those questions, anyone can coach employees in 10 minutes or less.

Coaching is critical in today’s complex and busy world, especially with millennials now being more than 50% of the working population. However, most attempts to train managers to be coaches are more complicated and theoretical than they need to be.

At my company Box of Crayons, we’ve trained more than 10,000 managers in fast and practical coaching skills, and we’ve found that just seven good questions can make all the difference.

Question 1: “What’s on your mind?”

A good opening line can make all the difference (just ask Charles Dickens, the Star Wars franchise, or any guy in a bar). The Kickstart Question starts fast and gets to the heart of the matter quickly. It cuts to what’s important while side stepping stale agendas and small talk.

Question 2: “And what else?”

The AWE Question keeps the flame of curiosity burning. “And what else?” may seem like three small words, but it’s actually the best coaching question in the world. That’s because someone’s first answer is never the only answer — and rarely the best answer. There are always more answers to be found and possibilities to be uncovered. Equally as important, it slows down the question asker’s “advice monster” — that part of every manager that wants to leap in, take over, and give advice/be an expert/solve the problem.

Question 3:”What’s the real challenge here for you?”

This is the Focus Question. It gets to the essence of the issue at hand. This question defuses the rush to action, which has many people in organizations busily and cleverly solving the wrong problems. This is the question to get you focused on solving the real problem, not just the first problem.

The first three questions combine to form a powerful script for any coaching conversation, performance-review formal, or water-cooler casual. Start fast and strong, provide the opportunity for the conversation to deepen, and then bring things into focus with the next questions.

Question 4: “What do you want?”

This is the Foundation Question. It’s trickier than you think to answer, and many disagreements or dysfunctional relationships will untangle with this simple but difficult exchange: “Here’s what I want. What do you want?” It’s a basis for an adult relationship with those you work with, and a powerful way to understand what’s at the heart of things.

Question 5: “How can I help?”

This is the Lazy Question.It might come as a surprise that sometimes managers’ desire to be helpful can actually have a disempowering effect on the person being helped. This question counteracts that in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request, by pressing them to get clear on what it is they want or need help with. Second, the question works as a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy — it prevents you from leaping in and beginning things you think people want you to do.

Question 6: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”

If you’re someone who feels compelled to say “yes” to every request or challenge, then this question is for you. Many of us feel overwhelmed and overcommitted; we’ve lost our focus and spread ourselves too thin. That’s why you need to ask this Strategic Question. A “yes” without an attendant “no” is an empty promise.

Question 7: “What was most useful for you?”

Your closer is the Learning Question. It helps finish the conversation strong, rather than just fading away. Asking “What was most useful for you?” helps to reinforce learning and development. They identify the value in the conversation — something they’re likely to miss otherwise, and you get the bonus of useful feedback for your next conversation. You’re also framing every conversation with you as a useful one, something that will build and strengthen your reputation.

Stay curious

When we feel the pressure to get things done, it’s all too easy to default to giving advice and providing solutions. That’s often a hollow victory. Adapting some of the principles and practices of building a coaching habit may be a little uncomfortable at first — for you and for the people you lead — but the upshot is you’ll work less hard and have more impact. And seven good questions will get you there.

 

Michael Bungay Stanier

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Founder and CEO of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less good work and more great work.  He’s the author of several books, including The Coaching Habit and Do More Great Work. Michael has written for or been featured in numerous publications including Business Insider, Fast Company, Forbes, The Globe & Mail and The Huffington Post.

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