Tame the Advice Monster!

By John Pearson

Quick! Read this new book before your next board meeting!

“Tame the advice monster,” urges Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of the hot-off-the-press book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. (
Read my review here.)

The author notes, “We’ve all got a deeply ingrained habit of slipping into the advice-giver/expert/answer-it/solve-it/fix-it mode.” (One study revealed that doctors interrupt patients with advice within 18 seconds. Ditto, perhaps, the rest of us in the boardroom!)

Slow down and take a breath, says Stanier. “Even though we don’t really know what the issue is, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer they need.”

Oh, my. This is brilliant counsel for the boardroom, isn’t it? When your CEO poses a difficult question to the board—how often do you (and your board colleagues) jump in with the first fix that comes to mind?

(And we should note: most CEOs only give boards their most difficult problems. The easy challenges never make it to the board agenda. Welcome to the board!)

So how do you tame the advice monster? Stanier says you must ask “The Best Coaching Question in the World.” I’m guessing that few board members see themselves as coaches. We’re advice givers. That’s why we’re on the board, right?

The Coaching Habit lists seven essential coaching questions:
• The Kickstart Question
• The AWE Question
• The Focus Question
• The Foundation Question
• The Lazy Question
• The Strategic Question
• The Learning Question

Stanier says the best coaching question in the world is the AWE question:
“And What Else?”

At a workshop recently, led by the author, I was in a four-minute exercise with another board chair. I was instructed to ask four questions displayed on the seminar room screen. Stanier says “the first answer someone gives you is almost never the only answer, and it’s rarely the best answer,” so the AWE question is the perfect follow-up.
• Q1: What’s the real challenge here for you?
• Q2: And what else?
• Q3: And what else?
• Q4: So what’s the real challenge here for you?

In just four minutes—it was almost magical. I stuck to the bargain (whew—very hard) and just asked questions of my board chair partner. He responded to each question—and increasingly, in response to “And what else?” he dug deeper and deeper and—BINGO!—answered his own question and solved his own challenge.

What if the next time your CEO posed a prickly problem to your board, you put on your coaching hat—while humbling your advice-giving tongue—and then simply responded, “And what else?”

Paul writes in Galatians 5:22-23 (Amplified Bible), “But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

QUESTIONS: At your board meetings, are you an advice-giving monster—or a thoughtful, prayerful listener? Should we order several copies of The Coaching Habit and ask for a book review at our next board meeting?


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.