The Coaching Habit: The Kickstart Question

By Marshall Goldsmith

Michael Bungay Stanier is a fantastic guy and great coach. Recently ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the top 8 coaches in the world, he is a member of our 100 Coaches and senior partner of Box of Crayons. Michael has written two books The Coaching Habit and Do More Great Work, which have sold close to 600,000 copies.

In The Coaching Habit, Michael talks about the importance of questions in coaching and in our interview this week, we discuss a special kind of question, the Kickstart Question.

Marshall: A lot of leaders have trouble with coaching. One of the reasons they have trouble is that coaching seems to them to be awkward, embarrassing, and uncomfortable. They just can’t get started.

I love your idea of the Kickstart Question. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Michael: You’re right on point Marshall. Coaching for leaders is a bit like trying to chat somebody up in a bar. If you could just get the conversation going, it’d be fine. But what is the opening line?
You can’t, in a coaching conversation, go, “Oh, did you hurt yourself when you fell from heaven?” That’s not going to work. You need a good coaching question to get things going.

I want managers and leaders and individual contributors to be more coach-like and it’s really helpful to have some go to questions to ask. You don’t need thousands, you don’t need hundreds, I reckon 70 to get you across the line!

So, here is the ultimate kickstart question: “What’s on your mind?” The reason it works so well, is that it is an open question. It says to the person, “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on for you?” You’re giving them the autonomy, the self-sufficiency, the empowerment to make the choice.

You’re not saying to them, tell me anything, or tell me everything, you’re saying, what are you worried about? What are you anxious about? What are you excited about? What’s waking you up at five o’clock in the morning? Let’s go somewhere important somewhere that matters, because time is short. I don’t have a whole bunch of time for a coaching conversation. I’d like to be able to coach you in 10 minutes or less. So, let’s get into it, and let’s get into it fast. What’s on your mind?

Marshall: I love it! Thank you!

Work Is Love Made Visible: A Collection of Essays about the Power of Finding Your Purpose from the World’s Greatest Thought Leaders, edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Sarah McArthur is available now on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com and wherever books are sold!