The 5 Question Leader

Growth Compass
6 min readDec 8, 2020


Speaker Summary and Takeaways from our chat with Michael Bungay Stanier

November 19, 2020

The first module of the Growth Catalyst Program focused on two of our seven scaling strategies being ‘Compass’ and ‘Coach’. At the module, participants were challenged to work on their leadership and team effectiveness and organizational purpose and vision. You can catch up on what you may have missed through the blog “Why Orientation is So Important as a Leader and Organization

For our module #1 keynote, we hosted the one and only, Michael Bungay Stanier! Joined by over 100 people from across Alberta, Michael was a big hit, with his keynote addressing the role of the leader in scaling organizations and his model the ‘5 Question Leader’.

You didn’t have to be a leader to gain important takeaways from the conversation. The interactive experience with Michael was an invigorating opportunity to expand our collective mindsets and take a different look at the work we are doing, and how we are doing it.

The main goal: Unweird Coaching!

Michael started off by describing the importance of coaching and how it not only serves you and those you lead but how it needs to be an everyday part of how you operate.

When team members have great coaching, their focus, courage, and resiliency increases, allowing them to realize their full potential. Organizations with highly engaged and performing employees can then accomplish growth and scaling at a much faster and greater pace than those who ignore this integral aspect of team development.

In order to increase your ability to coach, it is important to understand the three vicious cycles that managers and team members face every day. These can be described as having an overdependent team, being overwhelmed, and becoming disconnected.

Overdepent Team:

  • This is showcased when you have a team that seeks you out for the answers. Essentially, autonomy has been completely sucked out of the team. The more you give them answers, the more they come to you for answers.


  • This sense of dread comes from having too much on your plate. The more you have going on, the less you are able to focus on the aspects that really matter, such as strategic and innovative thinking to help you achieve your overarching organizational vision, thus resulting in an ever-increasing sense of burn out.


  • Lastly, getting trapped in the day to day operations can impact your ability to feel in tune with the purpose of your company. The less impact you have, the more you give up, and the more you resign yourself to what is going on.

The Three Types of Work

Participants were encouraged to share the cycle that is currently impacting them the most. Unsurprisingly, ‘overwhelm’ was the most common response. Our current conditions have created a work environment that has become increasingly more difficult to separate ourselves from. We have the ability to accomplish more work, but what type of work are we doing more of? Michael assured viewers that there was a way to solve this problem, and that was by differentiating between what type of work you are putting the most energy towards.

Michael describes three types of work; bad work, good work, and great work, and asks how your current workload would be divided.

Bad Work:

  • The mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work that makes you question yourself and everything you are doing. This work is redundant and doesn’t lead to purpose or impact in the organization in the long term. Australian’s will know the term WOMBAT — waste of money, bandwidth, and time! Companies who have put a focus on removing bad work within their organization include Richer Sounds, who have introduced a “cut the crap committee” to help monitor this type of work.

Good Work:

  • The work that you need to do, but is not transformational. This work is proactive and about efficiency. It is what results in profits and how to run the day to day operations. Have you ever put in your 50–60 hours in the week and then come home not having a clue of what you specifically accomplished? This is good work.

Great Work:

  • This is the work you live for. It fulfills you. It is transformational. It shifts your thought process. It is the work that helps achieve your strategic initiatives. This work advances knowledge, is an innovation disruptor, adds value, and doesn’t feel like actual work.

Tool to Use:

Access the ‘Do More Great Work’ tool to identify where you spend most of your time and introspect on how you can shift your mindset. Exercise: Click here to use our editable template to help you determine how your work is divided. To edit, download the PDF.

During the session, we learned that participants generally categorize their work distribution as 10–25% bad work, 20–80% good work, and 0–25% great work.

To improve on inefficiencies, Michael simply states “do more great work!” Finding the balance between good and great work is essential, as not all work can be great, but he encourages leaders to think about how to increase great work by 10% at an individual, team, unit, and company level to determine what kind of difference this will result in within the workplace.

So, how do you do more great work? Michael recommends coaching more people through ‘speed’ coaching, which can be completed in 10 minutes! Here are five questions to ask your team and how to use them to guide you in doing more great work.

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. What’s the real challenge here for you?
  3. AWE?
  4. What do you want?
  5. What was the most useful?

What’s on your mind?

This initial question is where you ask how do you do more great work? Is it how you scale? Is it how to increase stakeholder engagement?

What’s the real challenge here for you?

Here, you swing the spotlight from the problem to the person solving the problem. This allows them to become a part of the ecosystem. Both learning and growing will take place by figuring out how to solve the problem.

AWE? (And what else?)

The first answer to what’s on your mind is never the only answer, nor the best answer. By asking what else, you are able to determine other areas of need, as well as dig deeper and get into what really matters.

It’s encouraged to go through questions 1,2, and 3 multiple times to get to the root of the actual problem they need to solve, utilizing somewhat of a funnel down approach.

What do you want?

This is the generator of time and commitment. Determine what the real challenge is, what outcome they’re after, and the result they’re looking for.

What was most useful?

After doing the exercise, how did their mindset shift? Coming up with a strategic action isn’t always the only answer. The ability to come up with questions to orient members of your team towards what really matters is the changing factor that will lead you to become a better coach.

The Final Takeaway

This 5 Question Leader allows you to thoughtfully and visually see how the mindset of those who report to you has shifted. We can all agree that Michael did in fact achieve unweird coaching, and has subsequently left us with a tool that we look forward to seeing our cohorts use throughout the rest of the program!

Tool to Use:

Access this one-page takeaway to use as a resource for your coaching sessions!

About the Speaker

Michael Bungay Stanier helps people be a force for change. He’s best known for his book The Coaching Habit which has sold close to a million copies and has thousands of 5-star reviews online. His latest book The Advice Trap focuses on what it takes to tame your Advice Monster. He founded Box of Crayons, a learning, and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. They’ve trained hundreds of thousands of managers to be more coach-like and their clients range from Microsoft to Gucci.

Michael is a compelling speaker and facilitator, combining practicality, humour, and an unprecedented degree of engagement with the audience. He’s spoken on stages and screens around the world in front of crowds ranging from ten to ten thousand. His TEDx talk has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

About the Growth & Resiliency Speaker Series

The Growth & Resiliency Speaker Series is brought to you by the Growth Catalyst program in collaboration with Alberta Innovates, the province’s innovation engine. The Speaker Series is supported in part by the Government of Canada, as part of the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund.

To learn more, watch previous keynotes, or to preview what’s coming next, visit us on:

About the Growth Catalyst Program

Led by Mount Royal University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Growth Catalyst is an intensive program designed to spark the creation and set the foundation for executing a growth strategy by CEOs and their senior leadership teams.

To learn more about the program and apply, visit us at:



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