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

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

Excelling at Strategic Changes with Stragility

Excel at Strategic Change

It’s more important than ever to be agile enough to respond to new trends, to change with speed, and to reinvent yourself or your organization.

 

How do you build a company that is capable of making these changes?

How do you make change stick?

What should leaders do to make strategy actionable?

 

“Strategy is about making choices; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” -Michael Porter

 

Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand are the authors of STRAGILITY: Excelling at Strategic Changes. Ellen Auster is Professor of Strategic Management at York University. Lisa Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates. Their new book provides an actionable guide to helping strategy turn into successful execution. The authors have joined forces and have a new consulting firm called Stragility Change Management.

I recently asked them about their research and work in helping leaders excel at strategic change.

 

“In a period of rapid structural change, the only ones who survive are the Change Leaders.” -Peter Drucker

 

Master the 4 Stragility Skills

What is stragility?

Stragility is our word for Strategic, Agile, People Powered Change. It is the skills we all need to successfully lead organizational change. Tragically, 70% of changes fail — leaving companies and careers in ruin. Stragility skills can help all of us beat these odds. Whether you are a CEO, a midlevel manager, or front line supervisor, our book will help you lead successful change.

There are four critical Stragility Skills: sense and shift strategy, embrace the politics to build support for the change, inspire and engage the organization, and build change fitness to counter the change fatigue that is epidemic in our organizations today.

 

4 Stragility Skills

 

Skills to Excel at Strategic Changes

The title of Chapter 2 is intriguing “From Lock and Load to Sense and Shift.” Would you explain a little more about this shift in thinking?

Faced with relentless pressures, locking and loading on strategy is tempting but not a good idea. The world is always changing, and we need to stay ahead of the pack to succeed, or we’ll get blindsided. So sensing and shifting is about checking macro forces, keeping an eye on competitors’ moves, and watching those on the periphery on a regular basis. That way we can avoid, for example, what happened to Blackberry – once so dominant in cell phones, but so focused on competing incrementally that they totally missed the disruptive game-changing iPhone.

 

“Unless people are convinced about what you are asking them to do, they are not going to make it happen.” -Ravi Kant

 

Doing regular internal check-ins to see what’s working well that can be amplified or re-applied and to identify what’s not working well that needs to be addressed is also key to continuing to evolve and staying out in front.

For example, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has successfully steered Macy’s through a decade of growth by sensing and shifting strategies to delight customers. They’ve tailored offerings in each store, focused on developing employees’ selling skills, and become increasingly good at embracing new channels – like mobile and digital sales. We advocate that all organizations, big and small, sense and shift strategies to better serve customers and deliver their missions.

 

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -Plato

 

Embrace Politics

Politics is a negative word to most, but you say to embrace it. Why is this so critical to change management?

Ignoring politics or trying to push people forward when they’re resisting usually backfires and leads to more escalation not less. However, when we enroll people in the changes, understand their point of view, and address their concerns, then we not only can move forward, but we build commitment, passion and ownership. As a result, everyone offers their best ideas and helps to propel the change forward. Beyond the immediate change, this is also essential for creating receptivity to future changes.

In his first week as President of KFC, David Novak faced a national franchisee meeting full of angry franchisees. Business was soft and they were furious. In the face of this, Novak needed to marshal his political skills. Instead of getting defensive, he began the meeting by reminding everyone of their shared purpose and mission and then listened to concerns. Then, he divided the group into breakout sessions, each with the task of imagining they were President of KFC and coming up with an action plan. The groups returned with three proposals: improve quality, train people, and launch new menu items. And that’s what they did. And in the process they got back to growing. It is a great example of managing the politics and emotions of change.

 

McKinsey Study: Organizations built on strengths 2x more likely to succeed than those focused on problems.

 

Utilize Key Influencers

Talk a little about the importance of key influencers in driving change.

Key influencers are individuals who are the opinion leaders in the organization. These key influencers often have the resources, skills or social networks needed to win over the hearts and minds of the larger group. Influencers can also be very helpful in enabling their groups or teams to understand the pros and cons of change from the standpoint of different stakeholders, and in persuading others to support the change.

In addition to listening and engaging with those predisposed positively towards the change, we also need to work with key influencers who are more skeptical. Most leaders are inclined to pay attention to the supporters and ignore the skeptics. As tempting as it is to walk away from so-called skeptics, this is rarely the best approach.

In reality, many are what we’d call “positive skeptics.” That is, they believe that the change has flaws that need to be addressed. Engaging these skeptics has many benefits. They can be catalysts for rethinking different aspects of the change to make it more successful – which can save teams months of rework by catching flaws early. Second, involving them often leads to their increased ownership and commitment. Instead of standing on the sidelines, they often become change as the change rolls out. Finally, engaging them sends a powerful signal to the rest of the organization that all voices and opinions are important, alternative points of view can be heard, and constructive feedback on this and future efforts is welcome.

 

“People often have insufficient understanding of why they need to change.”

 

How can we enroll people to get passionate about the change?

How to Avoid the Most Common Branding Mistakes

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

 

How do you keep a brand relevant?

 

If you are looking to develop a strong global brand, you will find two names consistently mentioned as “go-to” experts: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They have just released a second edition of their book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization.

If you need to revitalize a brand, or if you are looking to avoid the pitfalls others have made, this book is a blueprint to follow for building a brand.

 

“Without trust, there can be no brand loyalty.” -Light / Kiddon

 

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book and the rules of branding.

 

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

 

1. Refocus the organization.

Where do most corporate leaders get it wrong?

They tend to believe that “refocus” can happen through tools and templates and HR seminars. Refocus is more than filling in the blanks and talking the talk. When there is a conflict between strategy and culture, culture wins. A commitment to change requires refocusing of the cultural mindset that emanates from the top down. Merely embarking on a training program to encourage a focus on new tools, templates, and techniques can distract from the need to accomplish both the behavioral and attitudinal modifications that foster culture change.

 

“Refocusing an organization around common goals is the first step for brand revitalization.” -Light / Kiddon

 

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

Rule 1: Refocus the organization

Rule 2: Restore brand relevance

Rule 3: Reinvent the brand experience

Rule 4: Reinforce a results culture

Rule 5: Rebuild brand trust

Rule 6: Realize global alignment

 

What tip would you provide to a leadership team in the midst of this refocus?

Leaders are different from commanders. Commanders manage by telling people what to do. They create acceptors. Leaders create believers. Acceptors go through the motions complying with the new processes and behaviors. Believers have true commitment that this refocus is a better path to a successful future. Acceptors are not the same as adherents. The leader must be the one to set the tone and drive the change for all to see and emulate. Leaders must demonstrate commitment if they expect people to become believers in the new world.

 

“The leader must set the tone and drive change.” -Light / Kiddon

 

  

2. Restore brand relevance.

What are the best ways to stay on top of changing customer expectations?

Stay up-to-date with all available information. Read a variety of sources, not just in your business’ field but also across many disciplines. Include regular market research reports. But also include what is happening in the world around us. Be observant. Be informed. Be open to new ideas.

In this world of access to “big data’” there is now a focus on data analytics. Analysis can tell us about what is happening today. Analysis is about the decomposition of data. But real insight does not come from analysis. It comes from creative synthesis. Analysis is about taking data apart. Synthesis is about putting together disparate sources of information in original ways. Synthesis is about detecting patterns that others fail to see. Keeping a brand relevant will involve both analysis and synthesis. Make sure that the organization is open and conducive to creative synthesis.

 

3. Reinvent the brand experience.

How do you define a brand experience?

The total brand experience includes consideration, shopping, purchase, use, service, online, offline, brand communications, handling of customer complaints, and so on. Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience. It includes every aspect of the brand promise: functional benefits, emotional and social rewards, solutions to problems, and so forth.

 

“Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience.” -Light / Kiddon

 

How fast can a brand innovate and reinvent?

6 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Evan Carmichael

Leadership Lessons from Entrepreneurs

Evan Carmichael is passionate about helping entrepreneurs. He built and sold a biotech software company at 19. He raised millions as a venture capitalist at 22. And then, he started EvanCarmichael.com as a website to help entrepreneurs. He is, by his own admission, “obsessed” with this passion.

His YouTube channel has millions of views and is the leading channel for entrepreneurs. You may have seen during one of his numerous media interviews or his many keynote speeches.

Recently, I caught up with Evan in Madrid, Spain. Having followed his career online, I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneurial mindset.

Even if we don’t own a business, what can we all learn from entrepreneurs? Here are a few lessons from Evan that inspired me. Since I am all about encouragement and empowerment, I wanted to share some of his most inspiring words.

 

6 Lessons from Entrepreneurs

All of us should:

  1. Embrace the entrepreneurial mindset.

This is a mindset of dissatisfaction with the status quo, of solutions, of challenge, and of driving to a more sustainable, successful place.

 

“Entrepreneurs have a dissatisfaction of the world around us.” –Evan Carmichael

 

“Entrepreneurs are the crazy ones who see a better future.” –Evan Carmichael

 

“Entrepreneurs are the solution providers who want to make the world a better place.” –Evan Carmichael

 

“Most of our global problems could be solved by entrepreneurs.” –Evan Carmichael

 

  1. Adopt a mindset of empowerment.

We should aim for a feeling of empowerment. It’s not about a title or a position. It’s about how we think. Finding a way to make a difference and to drive change is key to success.

 

“You don’t need permission to have an impact.” –Evan Carmichael

 

“Leaders of organizations empower teams to take risks.” –Evan Carmichael

 

  1. Assess and take appropriate risks.

Some entrepreneurs bet everything, but you can be pragmatic. You can take measured bets. Evan’s take on risk was eye opening. He thinks it’s “crazy risky” to assume you will have your job for 25 years and that your company will still be around. “Why not bet on you?” is a challenge we should all learn from.

 

“Betting on yourself is one of the best bets you can make.” –Evan Carmichael

 

  1. Embrace failure.

Failure is a subject I love to study because it is a component of all success. Evan adopts failure as part of the process, as something to embrace and encourage.

 

“Failure is feedback.” –Evan Carmichael

How to Transform Your Culture To Stay Ahead

How to Transform Your Culture

In all of the organizations I have had the privilege to lead, I am always thinking and focusing on culture. Culture, to me, is important both at home and at work. It is the engine that either limits potential or sustains success.

 

“Transforming culture is the real leadership work.” –John Mattone

 

Cultural Transformations BookcoverToday it seems every forward-thinking company is focused on cultural reinvention. John Mattone and Nick Vaidya’s new book, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention was one that I read with great interest. Not only do the authors outline the imperative to continually transform corporate culture to stay ahead of the competition, but they also interview numerous corporate leaders to provide examples to lead the way.

John Mattone has been featured here before. He’s a leadership guru, a top-ranked CEO coach, and runs a top-ranked leadership blog. Whenever he contacts me, I know that I will learn something. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his latest work.

 

“The culture you create and reinforce will determine your success.” –John Mattone

 

Culture Change is Constant

When you talk about cultural transformation, what are you referring to?  Under what circumstances might a company look to transform its culture?

Always. The need to transform culture and ensure that you always have the culture in place to drive sustained operating success is a never-ending pursuit and business priority. A healthy, vibrant and mature culture will drive success and keep any organization “ahead of the curve.” So many factors are creating “disruption” in all sectors—digitization, globalization, and the need to operate at two-speeds (fast in emerging economies, slower in mature economies). Traditional differentiators like size, scope, legacy and market position are no longer differentiators. To stay ahead of the curve, CEO’s and senior teams must always be re-thinking, re-shaping, and reinventing their own purpose as well as the purpose of the enterprise. It is no longer about the company you want to create; it is now much more about the company that you must create.

Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission

 

 

“The need to transform culture is a never-ending pursuit and business priority.” –John Mattone

 

 

Defining the Right Culture for You

How do you define what is the right culture for your organization?

You have to be passionate and diligent about measuring everything. This is the 6th step of my Cultural Transformation Model. Measuring operating metrics is part of it. Measuring the effectiveness of your talent systems, your engagement levels, and getting views from your customers and suppliers, and actually measuring what’s working and not working in your culture are all critical. Ultimately, it’s about leveraging your strengths and gifts—the positive legacy aspects of your business (and culture) and addressing the “gaps” and having a laser-focus discipline is what’s required. Sometimes, the C-level team determines based on this “world of feedback” that the company must become more innovative. This will then lead to strategies on how to recruit and select talent who possess the capability to be agile, nimble and innovative. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice in medicine. However, I would say the same principle applies in the world of corporate reinvention and renewal.

Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission

 

“A healthy, vibrant and mature culture will drive success.” –John Mattone

 

The Role of the Leader