Effective Leadership Is Just Seven Questions Away

Guest post from Michael
Bungay Stanier:

I stepped into an elevator on the way to a meeting and noticed that the button
you press to close the door quickly was much more worn than the one you press
to keep the door open. You’ve probably done the same as me: jabbing the button
to get the door closed so I can get ON with things. And it made me laugh,
really, because it’s a delightful microcosm of how we’re always trying to rush things,
big and small, in business and in life.

In our
organizations, there’s a constant drumbeat of busyness. As a manager, it’s
tempting to see your role as being to give advice and
encourage action. That’s part of it, for sure. But I’ve discovered that to have
more of an impact, to be what Peter Drucker would call “the effective executive,”
managers and leaders need to stay curious a little longer and rush to action
and advice a little slower. Less jabbing the “close door” button, more time
thinking about which floor you’d like the elevator to take you to.

In The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More &
Change the Way You Lead Forever
, I name seven questions that will help busy
managers stay curious and lift their leadership game. Despite the title of the
book, it isn’t about turning these managers into coaches. But it is about helping them be more
coach-like, an underutilized leadership skill.

But Who Has the Time for That?

greatest resistance that comes from this simple invitation — to stay curious
longer, rush to action and advice a little more slowly — is, of course, the
lack of time. Everyone’s busy, so surely the fastest thing to do is just tell
them what to do.

are three reasons giving advice can be a false economy. The first is that often
you’re providing solutions to the wrong challenge. It’s a pretty good bet that
the first challenge someone presents to you is not the real challenge. Rather,
it’s a symptom, a best guess, a smoke screen, a half-baked solution, or
something else — just not actually the real challenge.

in nominating yourself as the source of all wisdom, you’re being trained by
your people to do their work for them. You’re complicit in moving them away
from being self-sufficient, confident, masterful and autonomous. You’re setting
yourself up as the bottleneck and the road block.

finally, if I may be blunt, your advice just isn’t as good as you think it is.

then, are seven proven questions that will help you stay curious longer, rush
to action and advice a little more slowly, and change the way you lead forever.

#1: The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?

key to having a good conversation is getting off on the right foot. My first coaching
question is called the Kickstart Question because it does just that — it kickstarts
a conversation and accelerates it into interesting territory. It finds a sweet
spot in being an open-ended question (You tell me what you want to talk about .
. .) that encourages focus and gets us to the stuff that matters (. . . but
let’s talk about something important).

#2: The AWE Question: And what else?

believe that the AWE Question is the best coaching question in the world. We know
that the first answer to a question is never the only answer, so asking this
question draws out more from any coaching conversation — more wisdom, more
possibilities. It also works as a self-management tool for you. If you’re
asking this, you’re resisting the temptation to jump in and offer up solutions.
This question keeps the elevator door open, so to speak.

#3: The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here
for you?

This question helps us get
to the heart of an issue instead of immediately jumping in to solve an entirely
different problem. The words “real” and “for you” have the power to provoke
self-reflection and a deeper level of thought than does merely “What’s the
challenge here?”

#4: The Foundation Question: What do you want?

This can be a difficult question
to ask (and even more difficult to answer), but asking it can often get us to the
heart of things. That’s because we don’t always know exactly what we want, even
if at first we think we do. This question demands a clear answer — and forces you
to come up with the best way to help, without jumping in and taking over.

#5: The Lazy Question: How can I help?

Once you know what the
other person wants, the next step is asking how you might assist. This question
invites the other person to make a clear request. In order for them to request
something of you, they need to be clear about what they need. The question
keeps you both curious and lazy — if you find out how exactly you can help,
you’re less likely to spend time doing things you merely think people want you to do.

#6: The Strategic Question: If you’re saying yes to this,
what are you saying no to?

If you have a hard time
saying no, this question is for you. You’re not alone, of course. We’re all
pretty good at saying yes, even though we’re already at full capacity. The
result is that we’re failing to make as much difference as we’d hope on too
many things. But to truly commit to something and make a difference, you’ve got
to create space. And a “yes” is empty without a strong “no.” When you ask this
question, you bring forth a promise to prioritize and make a commitment real.

#7: The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?

This is the perfect
question to conclude a conversation. It’s not just about encouraging learning
and development, though that does happen, but also about extracting the value
from the conversation. People remember more when they find the answer
themselves. Asking this question is an effortless way to reinforce what was
discussed during the conversation.

Which Floor?

We’re all on an elevator,
headed somewhere. It’s tempting to get those doors shut ASAP and hurry on.
Don’t worry, the doors will shut soon enough. Meantime, use these seven
questions to get clearer on exactly which floor you’d like arrive.

About Michael Bungay Stanier

Author of The
Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior
Partner and Founder 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.
Download free chapters of Michael’s latest