The ONE, Counterintuitive Way to Become a Better Leader.
We are delighted to welcome Michael Bungay Stanier as guest writer here at the Knowledge Bank. Michael’s recent book, The Coaching Habit, has now sold a quarter of a million copies and is our recommended book of the month.
If you’re like many of the managers we speak to, you’re probably always on the lookout for ways to improve as a manager. Luckily for you, there is one simple way to do that... be lazy !
I am not trying to sound controversial when I say that laziness is key. You really can be lazier and still have more impact. Ask a question instead of offering advice and you’ll see what I mean.
The Lazy Question.
We see it all the time in movies and books, and on TV too: situations where it would have been advantageous to ask a question.
“You mean to tell me you knew where the treasure was hidden and you never said anything?”
“You didn’t ask.”
You can’t get answers if you don’t ask questions. And you definitely can’t get the right answers if you don’t ask the right questions. The key to being a good leader lies in asking questions, and the Lazy Question — How can I help? — is a perfect one to ask, helping both manager and employee.
The Power of Asking “How Can I Help?”
Once asked, the question How can I help? works its magic in two ways. For starters, it forces the person you’ve asked this question of to state what they want from you. This means they actually need to know what that is, and this in turn will make their request all the more clear. And that way, nobody rushes off to fix the wrong problem altogether.
Second, this question keeps managers from immediately bounding in with advice. Instead of jumping in to solve the issue, you’re asking what exactly your employee needs from you to be able to solve it themselves. The difference is subtle, and yet the result will be completely different. Instead of taking over, you empower your employee and encourage their capacity to learn.
If you’re always coming up with the answers, you’re essentially training your team to come to you for everything. But if instead of offering advice, you ask pointed questions, not only will they learn from these interactions but you’ll get to work less hard and have more impact. The laziness will pay off in dividends!
Curiosity Is Key
As a self-management tool, the Lazy Question keeps you curious and gets to the heart of what’s needed. Sometimes people will come to you with a concern without really knowing themselves what they need from you. This question helps draw out details and tames your Advice Monster — which is actually more helpful than you running off immediately in the direction you think you’re most needed.
Sometimes, a manager’s desire to help can be disempowering. Often when a manager jumps in to help, they end up taking over, which doesn’t leave the team member feeling particularly useful. The Lazy Question empowers the employee to come up with solutions, while letting them know their manager is listening and ready to support. The genius thing is that this question still enforces accountability: You offer your help but keep the ball in their court. They are the one who will fix the problem, but you’ll still be there to help.
It sounds simple enough — be lazy, ask more questions and give less advice. But you’d be shocked at how quickly we move to solve other people’s problems. Yes, it takes effort to notice and shift behaviour, but I believe that laziness is key to a more productive workplace. So stay curious, ask questions and find out what’s really needed from you — instead of rushing off to “help.”
About Michael Bungay Stanier
Michael is the Senior Partner at Box of Crayons, a company that teaches 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. Along with David Creelman and Anna Tavis, Michael recently conducted and released a new piece of research, The Truth & Lies of Performance Management. Michael is a Rhodes Scholar and was recently recognised as the #3 Global Guru in coaching.
Visit Box of Crayons for more information.