Ask Not What Your Habit Can Do for You, but What Your Habit Can Do for Others

Guest post from Michael
Bungay Stanier:

For
those in a leadership role, the responsibility to lead and direct employees
falls to you. Let’s assume that your employees respect you, like you and feel that
you’re leading them down a good path. You work hard and your workplace runs
smoothly.

But what
if you could work a little less hard, positively change the way you lead and do
it all by simply asking a few more questions and talking a little less — by
creating a new habit?

It’s
easy to cast this idea aside. After all, you’re an established leader in your
industry, so you must be doing something right. Change is hard, and creating a
new habit doesn’t happen overnight.

For my
book
The Coaching Habit, I
studied the neuroscience of habits and engagement and then, based on my
research, created seven simple coaching questions to make it possible to coach in
10 minutes or less. The point of it all is to help busy managers learn how to make
coaching an everyday habit and become better leaders.

It’s
simple, really. To be an effective coach, stay quiet a little longer, offer a
little less advice and ask the seven essential questions.

Unfortunately,
just because the idea is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement.

Change Is Hard


As you
likely know, changing a behavior can be difficult.

According
to a
Duke University study, at least 45% of our waking behavior is habitual.
Have you ever arrived home from work only to realize you don’t really remember
how you got there? You know you drove, but you can’t recall details of the commute.
That’s a perfect example of habitual behavior.

We are
creatures of habit, so it’s no surprise that you may be less than excited to
attempt to change your behavior and create a new habit. But hear me out.­­­

How to Build a New Habit

First
let’s look at how to build an effective new habit.
You need five components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective
practice, and a plan.

Let’s
assume your reason to change is that you
want to better coach your employees. The trigger
is one particular employee who often looks for your insight on any given issue
at the weekly meeting. This typically triggers your usual behavior of offering
advice — instead of actually coaching.

Since
your end goal is to do a better job of coaching, think about that routine response
and then come up with one small step that, if you took it, would help you move toward
your goal. For instance, you might vow that the next time the employee looks to
you for guidance at the meeting, instead of jumping in with advice, you’ll ask,
“What ideas do you have that might work?” This small change in your behavior
will go a long way if you make it a micro-habit
and add to it.

Once
you’ve come up with your micro-habit, you just need to put it to effective practice. It may sound easy to
sit back and ask questions instead of offering advice but, believe me, it can
be hard to tame our advice monsters, and you’ll need to practice this as often
as you can.

And
finally, make a plan for how to get
back on track should you fall off it. (You might not figure out the plan until
you do get off track, and that’s okay.) You may miss a coaching opportunity
here and there, but you needn’t give up. The more often you ask questions, the
easier it becomes to do so.

All
this is fine and dandy if you’re committed to implementing a new coaching
habit, but you may still be wondering . . .

If Your Familiar and Efficient Ways Are Working, Why
Change Them?

There
is a difference between efficient and effective. If you’re still not convinced
of the payoff your new coaching habit will have, think less about how your
habit will affect you and more about how it will positively affect others. Your
new habit will do wonders for the people around you, and the sooner you
visualize that, the more likely you are to commit to the change. (Assuming, of
course, that you like the people around you!)

How Will My
Habit Help Others?

It
turns out that one of the best ways to help people learn is by asking them
questions. If I ask you a question and you are forced to come up with the
answer, you’re more likely to remember what you learned through the experience than
if I were to just tell you the answer — because you’re forced to create your
own connections and put in effort to find the answer.

By
asking your employee questions instead of offering advice, you do just that — force
them to come up with options and ideas, which they are more likely to learn
from than if you were to just tell them what to do.

Plus,
by asking questions, you get to the heart of whatever issue your employee is
facing — sometimes it’s not the surface issue that’s really affecting them, and
you won’t realize this until you’ve delved a little deeper.

Hopefully
by now you’re seeing the benefit your new habit will have on others, but here’s
a little extra incentive: Not only will your employees learn and develop thanks
to your new habit, but you’ll benefit too. You won’t have to jump in with all
the answers and take on more. In fact, you’ll get to do less work while having
more impact.
About Michael Bungay Stanier

Author of The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier is Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps
organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. It is best known for its
coaching programs, which give busy managers practical tools to coach in 10
minutes or less.