Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Learn the Coaching Habit

Master the Coaching Habit

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do great work. His latest book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, landed on my desk and intrigued me because coaching is a skill all great leaders must master. I followed up and asked him to share more about his work in this area.

 

“The essence of coaching lies in helping others unlock their potential.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Stay Curious Longer

What is a coaching habit, and why is it essential to good leadership?

You may know Daniel Goleman as the man who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence. He has written widely on the topic of leadership; in his Harvard Business Review article “Leadership That Gets Results,” he notes that there are six styles of leadership, all of them useful at one time or another and all of them with pros and cons.

Coaching is one of those six styles. It is the most powerful style for employee engagement and impact on culture, and it contributes to the bottom line. It is also the least-utilized leadership style. We need to change that.

We don’t want to turn busy managers and leaders into coaches. But we do want them to be more coach-like. What that means, at its heart, is staying curious a little longer, and rushing to advice-giving and action-taking a little more slowly. That’s easy to say —but hard to do—and it’s what we’re tackling in my new book, The Coaching Habit. The coaching part is straightforward: seven essential questions that every busy manager and leader can use. We then help you put those questions into action with the New Habit Formula, a simple but powerful tool to help you change your behavior by building new habits.

 

“Saying Yes more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Know the Difference Between Being Helpful & Coaching

What’s the difference between being helpful and being a coach?

The Coaching HabitWe all aspire to be helpful. Because you’re reading Skip’s blog, I’m certain you actually care about the people you lead and the difference you and they are making for your organization. You want to encourage great work: work that has more impact, and work that has more meaning.

However, in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever we show how your good intentions often end up having the opposite effect:

If you have a tendency to jump in, fix things, take things on, rescue people . . . that’s not helpful.

If you, 20 seconds into a conversation, already have the answer and are just waiting for the other person to stop talking . . . that’s not helpful.

If you and your team are great at being tactical and getting everything done, but not that great at being strategic and figuring out the right things to get done . . . that’s not helpful.

If you are so busy helping everyone else that you don’t have the time to do what Cal Newport would call the Deep Work that your own projects require . . . that’s not helpful.

In short, if you recognize any of the three vicious cycles the busy manager faces — an over-dependent team, a sense of being overwhelmed, and a sense of disconnect from the work that matters — it could be that you’re guilty of being “helpful.”

Being more coach-like isn’t the only way to change this, but it certainly is one of the simplest and fastest ways. As I’ve said, at its essence, being more coach-like means staying curious a little longer and rushing to advice and action a little more slowly.

 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

Become a Better Listener

What techniques work for those who want to be better listeners?

Almost everyone knows the basics of active listening. The problem is that this has given rise to FAL: fake active listening. That’s when you put your head to the side, nod occasionally, look concerned, and make small “nonverbal” noises of encouragement — all the time while thinking of something else completely.

In The Coaching Habit we offer eight “masterclasses” on how to ask a question well, and the notion of listening well is woven through all of them. I suggest that these are the four best places to start:

  1. Ask one question only. It’s all too easy to end up asking three questions plus a few variations, which only leaves the other person confused.
  2. Start to notice how quickly you want to jump in and share a thought, give an idea, offer up advice. See if you can wait another minute before you actually do.
  3. Go deeper by asking the AWE question (more on that below).
  4. “Listen” and stay curious on all channels. You may be able to listen even harder and ask questions better when you’re emailing and IM-ing. That is, these skills aren’t just in play when you’re talking to someone face to face.

 

Ask the Best Coaching Question in the World

Would you explain for our readers the concept of AWE and how it can transform conversations?

Ah — you’ve picked up on the best coaching question in the world. And what’s perfect is that its acronym is AWE — so it’s literally an awesome question.

AWE is short for “And what else?”

And if this feels a little anticlimactic after the claim that this is the best coaching question in the world, let me explain the two reasons why it is.

To start, AWE supercharges every other question you have. I can promise you that the first answer someone gives you is never their only answer, and it is rarely their best answer. AWE helps mine what is there.

And then, AWE is a powerful self-management tool. You’ve picked up by now that my goal is for you to stay curious a little longer and to rush to advice and action a little more slowly. That’s harder to do than you’d think, because you’ve got a lifetime’s experience of jumping in. “And what else?” is the simplest question to ask to keep you curious. And if you’re asking the question, you’re not giving the answer.

 

Don’t Start With Why

You take on Peter Senge and Simon Sinek, saying to ignore both authors and not start a question with “Why?” I can’t resist: Why?Michael-Bungay-Stanier

Ha! I see what you’re doing here, Skip. Look, questions that begin with “why” can be very powerful, as both Senge and Sinek show. But for most busy managers, Why questions have two particular dangers.

First, you have to get the tone exactly right or your question will come across more as accusatory than simply curious. It can sound like, “Why the heck did you do that?”

Second, why questions are often about getting more details of the story — “Give me the background.” And you want the background information so that you are able to offer some really good advice. But here’s the thing: I want our leaders to be offering up a little less advice. So if you realize that it’s not your job to give advice (or at least, it is much less often than you think) but rather to help people figure things out for themselves, then you’ll also realize that you don’t need to know the details — so you don’t need to ask, “Why?”

 

“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” -Sam Keen

 

Be Comfortable With Silence

Silence is not something most of us are comfortable with. I’ve watched people fill in the empty space in every way possible. Why is it important to be comfortable with silence?

It’s true, isn’t it? One, two seconds of silence happen, and then the words rush in to fill the gap. Becoming comfortable with silence is an extremely powerful tool for a couple of reasons.

One, silence allows those who need a little more time to think things through to do just that. Susan Cain in her book Quiet has really helped wave the flag for the needs of the introvert. So follow the advice in the book’s title: be quiet and allow people to think.

And two, silence is a self-management tool. If you can get comfortable with silence, you’ve found a way to stop yourself from rushing in to fix things, solve things, make things better. The other person will fill that space for you.

 

“Silence is often a measure of success.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Saying No is A Leadership Skill

How to Become Impossible to Ignore

Become Impossible to Ignore

Be Impossible to Ignore

“Memory matters because it influences action.” -Carmen Simon

 

How do you stay on people’s minds?

How do you craft your message in a way that stands out above the noise?

Since audiences forget most of what you communicate, how do you stay on their minds long enough to influence decisions?

 

I’ve read my share of books on speaking, on marketing, on crafting messages that will resonate. Dr. Carmen Simon’s new book, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, is one that I appreciate for its uniqueness. It’s not only about how to craft memorable messages but also about the science behind doing it.

Carmen Simon, PhD is a cognitive scientist who helps brands craft these memorable messages. Messages crafted based on how the brain works stay with us and influence our thinking long after we experience them. Her firm, Rexi Media, is a presentation design and training company based on her research.

 

“Familiarity wins over novelty when our conscious mental processing is distracted.” -Carmen Simon

 

Become Memorable With Distinction

Audiences forget up to 90%. What do most presenters get wrong?

First, let’s debunk a myth around the “90%.” It is not true that people only remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see…and up to 90% of what they say and do. There is no scientific study that provides evidence for such conveniently increasing stats (and what is the difference between “reading” and “seeing” anyway?).

When analyzing messages we share with a business audience, it is practical to consider a theory and formula that has been around for more than eight decades, called the forgetting curve. Simply put, according to the forgetting curve, we forget fast at first and slower later. After about 48 hours, people will forget most of our messages, particularly when they attend to them without the intent to remember, which is typical in business contexts. In academia, students attend to messages with the intent to retain (ideally). But in business, audiences are often in a state of partial attention, multitasking, and likely sleep-deprived. We are lucky if they remember anything at all. The practical advice for any business communicator is to ask, “What is my 10% message?” and consider the “10%” a metaphorical number, not a strict one because in business, it is difficult to attach a precise stat on how much people remember days or weeks later. We just know they retain very little and at random.

Regarding the question about what goes wrong for business presentations where memory is concerned: Most people worry about not remembering the past. In business, what we should be worried about is whether our audiences remember us in the future, because that’s where decisions happen. Let’s say you’re sharing content at a certain point in time, Point A. Your audiences are likely to make decisions about you (hire you, promote you, read your content, like it, etc.) at a future point, Point B. This point can be minutes, weeks, or months later. The key ingredient to business success is people remembering us in the future, at Point B, and making a decision in our favor.

 

“Everything you have ever achieved in business is a reflection of how much your audiences remember you.” -Carmen Simon

 

Retrospective memory (remembering the past) is still useful. But it is prospective memory (remembering to act on a future intention) that keeps us in business. This means that at Point B, we must enable people not only to remember but also to create for them a memory that is strong enough to compel action.

A common mistake that business communicators make is not building in audiences’ minds strong associations between the content shared at Point A and actions they must take later, at Point B. Simply having a nice PowerPoint presentation or an ad with a “call to action” at Point A is not sufficient. Take for instance the ad that Colgate released at the Super Bowl this year. The ad reminded us that when we brush our teeth and leave the water running, we waste about 4 gallons of water, and that’s how much some people around the world have access to in one week. The main message was: “every drop counts” – indeed a humanitarian message. The strength of the ad is that the conditions at Point A and Point B are the same, in the sense that we saw the water running when we watched the commercial, and that’s what we see a few hours later, and each day after that in real life, when we brush our teeth. What the ad missed was instilling a stronger association between the message and what we’re supposed to do at Point B. At least a few shots in the video could have zoomed in a bit more on the action of turning the water off. And the main message should have been, “Every drop counts, turn the water off.” Too often, we leave it to the audience to derive the message and, unfortunately, people are too busy and too tired to extract messages and change their behavior. We often decide what to do next out of habit. And changing habits requires cognitive energy, which we may not have at the time when we need it. Think about it: When are you most likely to brush your teeth? Early in the morning and late at night. What’s the likelihood that you’re still tired in both those circumstances? Quite high. The ad relied too much on the emotion of the stat (“some people in the world do not have enough water”) and too little on solidifying the link between the message and the action needed at Point B.

 

“Memory paves the road from intention to execution.” -Carmen Simon

 

Memory works on the concept of associations. Our brains take in the world through our senses and process that information in specialized regions (e.g., visual, auditory or motor cortices). These are considered primary sensory areas. However, our brains are capable of more complex mental functions than simply detecting basic sensory details, like color or pitch. We don’t just see a color or a contour or light. We see faces and cars and toasters and shoes. Each primary sensory system has its own association areas; the human brain also has higher order association areas, which are not linked to a particular sense but combine input from them to generate complex actions, like thinking and planning and producing language and deciding what to do next. Our association areas take up most of the cerebral cortex. Scientific studies are now revealing for instance that what differentiates creative people from non-creative people is greater activity in these association areas of the brain.

The key message is that the stronger the associations we enable between various inputs in the brain, the more likely the action. Sometimes people think that a strong, emotional message at Point A is sufficient and it’s not. By the time Point B comes around, the initial emotion can wear off. Think of the many times you may remember the humor from an ad, but have no idea what the ad was for. This is because the advertisers failed to establish a strong association between the content at Point A and the action at Point B.

 

“Having information about someone else ahead of time is a source of power.” -Carmen Simon

 

Control What Your Audience Remembers

What steps should a presenter take to become intentional about what the audience remembers?

The first step is to be clear about what you want others to remember. This can be one of the easiest or hardest steps, depending on your messaging. Sometimes it can take weeks, months or even years to get to the essence of a message you want others to remember. And sometimes we forget our own messages. Take Abercrombie & Finch, for example. For a while, the message they wanted us to remember was about a highly sexualized, bare physique. Then they changed their mind and asked their models and sales reps to wear shirts. This shift in brand identity was not only costly but it moved away from an older (and original) set of core values, which were “personal freedom and rustic simplicity.” The switch to the concept of athletic and sexual was meant to appeal to young Americans, who were in perfect physical shape and had disposable income. Unfortunately, once this demographic started to face the worst job prospects in American history, the brand stopped thriving. A focus on nature and personal freedom would have been a more enduring message, one that is remembered even in tough economic times.

If we forget what’s important, how do we expect others to remember?

 

Speaking Tip: Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and memory traces.

 

Be Intentional With Your Audience

The Art of Being Yourself

Be You

Caroline McHugh describes people who have figured out the art of being true. From her perspective, we are all born with unique gifts. We don’t always know what those gifts are, but those who figure them out stand out.

 

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” –Dr. Seuss

 

In fact, they radiate a power so intense, rooted in their authenticity, that, “It’s like they swallowed the moon.”

So, how do you get good at being you? What does it mean to “just be yourself”?

Since our days are numbered, each of us must find a way to uncover our gifts and our authentic selves. In this way, we become all we were meant to be.

 

“People who are frightened to be themselves will work for those who aren’t afraid.” –Caroline McHugh

 

What part of you are you holding back?

 

“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” -John Mason

 

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How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins

The New Advantage

Creating Win-Wins for Companies and Women

In many companies, women are not advancing. This is despite the extensive research showing that more women in leadership positions equals higher company profits and a more competitive organization. At each level of an organization, women dwindle in numbers, leading to a lack of gender balance on top leadership teams.

 

If women make up less than 25% of an applicant pool, they are more likely to be negatively evaluated.

 

As a CEO who advocates and appreciates diversity, a new book by Joelle K. Jay and Howard Morgan intrigued me. The New Advantage: How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for Their Companies and Themselves doesn’t just talk about the challenge but also provides women ideas and tools to advance. Their research is based on interviews with hundreds of senior executives.

I recently spoke with the authors about their work in creating win-win situations for companies and women.

 

“Executive presence is the degree to which others perceive you to be a leader.” –Morgan & Jay

 

Howard J. Morgan and Joelle K. Jay, PhD, of the Leadership Research Institute (LRI) are co-authors of THE NEW ADVANTAGE:  How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for Their Companies and Themselves (Praeger / 2016).  LRI is a global consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development.  Morgan has worked with over 1,000 CEO and executive team members of the world’s largest organizations on improving corporate and executive performance.  Jay is an executive coach and keynote speaker and specializes in the advancement of executive women.

 

The Unique Problems Women Face in Leaders

What are some of the problems women uniquely face in the workforce?

We have worked with some of the largest organizations in the world. Based on our experience, and several major reports, companies with the highest representation of women in senior management positions are shown to perform the best. Research reports that companies with more women:

  • Are more profitable (18-69%)
  • Are more competitive (25%)
  • Are more effective because they demographically reflect the market (83%).

In balanced leadership teams of men and women, women tend to bring fresh perspectives and ideas, talent and experience, and that leads to better decision-making.

The problem is despite all of those advantages, we found they are persistently underrepresented in senior levels of leadership. Women currently hold only 4.0% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, according to the Catalyst research organization Catalyst.

 

Research: Companies with women are up to 69% more profitable.

 

Companies Benefit When Women Are in Leadership

What are some of the advantages companies experience when more women are represented in leadership? 

Companies that attract and develop executive women gain amazing benefits related to profitability, productivity and performance. Some areas include increased revenues, greater innovation, increased employee engagement, higher productivity, better financial performance, global competitive advantage, and stronger leadership.

Companies benefit from the increased financial performance associated with a balanced leadership team, beating their competition by up to a third.

 

Research: Companies with a balanced leadership team beat the competition by up to a third.

 

What barriers do women face today?

The New AdvantageThe women we’ve spoken with and worked with report a wide range of issues. Perhaps the biggest barrier is a lack of awareness on the part of their companies about what stops women from advancing and how to increase the number of women in senior level and executive leadership positions.

There are a number of obstacles that have prevented the integration of women into the highest levels of leadership. First, change takes time. Second, few role models exist for women at the top. Third, we are still learning about the barriers that prevent women from breaking into C-level leadership. Two of the biggest breakthroughs in recent research for the advancement of women to leadership positions are executive presence and sponsorship. These have only become prevalent topics of research in recent years. And in reality, until recently the business culture has evolved around a predominance of men as leaders, and characteristics associated with successful leadership are still aligned with more masculine traits.

 

“Women who want to succeed to higher levels of leadership have to take the lead.” –Morgan & Jay

 

Take Control of Your Future