Be the Coach, Not the Boss

Two people in a conversation

In previous posts, I wrote about how your advice habit is making everyone around you feel less empowered and less smart. Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever, a book about how to get rid of your tendency to jump in to give advice.

He knows how hard the advice habit is to break; it’s satisfying, even compelling, on so many levels.  But if you can practice taking a coaching stance as you talk to your team, your friends and family, and anyone else you’re trying to help you’ll have much more success.

I admire Bungay Stanier’s approach to coaching. He’s broken it down into a system that just about anyone can master. If you’re thinking about coaching as a career, here’s your toolkit: a definition, three principles, seven questions, three ways to combine them, and eight ways to ask them well.

The Definition of Coaching

Stay curious a little longer. Rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly. That’s it. The longer you listen and the more time you wait before offering advice, the more effective you’ll be at coaching.

Three Coaching Principles or foundational behaviors

  • Be lazy
  • Be curious
  • Be often

By “be lazy”, he means you should stop rushing in to solve other people’s problems. It’s not your job, even if you are the boss of them.  Your job is to help them solve their own problems.

By “be curious” he means staying in the question-asking mode. Keep asking questions until you get to the root of the problem, the most important thing, and what the person really wants and needs at this moment.

By saying “be often,” he wants to “blow up the idea that coaching is an occasional, hierarchical, formal event. Every interaction can be a bit more coach-like because, after all, it’s just a question of staying curious a little bit longer. So you can be more coach-like in meetings, on the phone, by text, on Slack… through pretty much any channel of communication.”

Seven Questions

Bungay Stanier says there’s no set script. You don’t have to ask these questions in a certain order. They work by themselves, or in any order.

The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” A perfect way to start many conversations. Both open and focusing at the same time.

The AWE Question: “And what else?” The best coaching question in the world—because their first answer is never their only answer, and rarely their best answer.

The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?” We’re all wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem because we were seduced into thinking the first challenge is the real challenge.

The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” This is where motivated and informed action best begins.

The Strategy Question: “If you’re saying Yes to this, what must you say No to?” Strategy is about courageous choice, and this question makes commitment and opportunity cost absolutely clear.

The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” The most powerful question to stop us from “rescuing” the other person. An alternative is, “What do you want from me?”

The Learning Question: “What was most useful or valuable here for you?” Learning doesn’t happen when you tell them something, it happens when they figure it out for themselves.

Bungay Stanier says these questions work because they’re simple and straightforward, but they never lead the other person. He writes “It’s easy to end up asking questions that are designed to confirm a hypothesis or generate the answer we think is the answer they should be giving us. These questions all knock at the door of the unknown.”

In a future post, I’ll help you develop a method for using these questions in your coaching conversations.

2 thoughts on “Be the Coach, Not the Boss

  1. Jerry Gitchel

    Excellent post, Candace. In my career, I’ve served in the role of consultant and coach. Sometimes I forgot to switch hats. Thanks for the reminder. Shortly, I’m going to share this post on my LinkedIn profile.

    Jerry Gitchel _______________________ 5011 Gate Parkway Building 100, Suite 100 Jacksonville FL 32256 Mobile: 904-566-8325 Virtual:


  2. Lovely
    Stay wealthy healthy safe and happy


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