Laine Joelson Cohen’s One Best Question
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Behind every great coach, there’s a collection of good questions. Laine Joelson Cohen, the director of leadership, executive and professional development at Citi, doesn’t disappoint. Discover her best question. (You’re going to want to start using it right away!)
Michael: This is Michael Bungay Stanier, this is the Coaching Habit Podcast, where I talk to writers, thinkers, movers, shakers, sometimes, even coaches, to talk about how they make their lives better, how they make those who they work with lives better, so we can strive to do, you know, live a better life to do more great work.
And I am speaking to Laine Joelson Cohen, she is the director of leadership, executive and professional development at Citi. She has a long career at Citi, 26 years. And for over 10 years, she had a senior leader in a high-end part of the HR, part of the business, but over the last five years or so, she has moved to follow her passion for coaching and really help that be a big part of the culture at Citi.
So, Laine, welcome. Glad to have you on the podcast with me.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael: So, this is one of the … we’ve done a main conversation, a main interview, which was wonderful, we gotten into kind of culture change. This one, I’m going to pin you for just one question, which is this: this is the coaching habit podcast, and behind every great coach, there’s a collection of good questions.
And I’m always curious to know, if I had to pin you down, what would be your one best question. Laine, what is your question?
Laine Joelson Cohen: I’m going to give you the question and then I’ll give you some context around-
Laine Joelson Cohen: The question that I love is how might you experiment?
Michael: That’s brilliant. I love that, because I go all sorts of places right away. What makes it powerful for you?
Laine Joelson Cohen: Often, I’m coaching somebody on the back of something that they’ve identified that they might want to change or do differently, or they’ve gotten some 360 feedback that’s hinting to them that they need to change a behavior or a habit or something that they’re doing. Thinking about changing your behavior is so overwhelming often, that contemplating an experiment seems to really unleash the opportunity to sort of play and have fun and do something differently in a more non-threatening way.
It’s a way to … you don’t have to tell anybody about it, right? We think about how might we experiment with this, we come up with some ideas, and then go out and do it. Go out and experiment and collect data and say, “Wow, that was really different,” or, “That worked.”
It sort of builds a willingness to make a change without it seeming so big and overwhelming.
Michael: It connects back to our earlier conversation, our main interview where you talk about the shift of culture at Citi and that need to kind of embrace that more 27, rapid iteration, rapid innovation, minimum viable product, which is all about test a little bit, figure out what just happened, and then go, “Okay, so now what do I do?”
It feels like you’re bringing that insight that’s transforming the culture at Citi into the way you work with people as well.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Absolutely.
Michael: Is there a time when that question works particularly well, kind of any particular situations where you’re like, “This is particularly a good time to ask that question?”
Laine Joelson Cohen: As I mentioned before, often when somebody is grappling with feedback, something that they need to do differently, and I just had a great experience with somebody who had sort of identified for himself that he needed to take more risks in terms of sharing his ideas, but was really worried about it.
Wasn’t sure when to jump into a conversation and was it his place or was he gonna add value? At the same time, he was getting feedback from his peers and from his boss that he was being a bit long-winded and not getting to the point in conversations.
Michael: Love it.
Laine Joelson Cohen: We had this conversation about an experiment and he thought, “Well, maybe the next time when I’m feeling that anxiety, I’m just gonna go ahead and jump in and try it.”
Laine Joelson Cohen: The next morning, I got an email rather, with the subject, “Experiment worked. :)”
Michael: That’s great.
Laine Joelson Cohen: I think that’s one time when it really works. You’re trying something that’s new, completely new or out of your comfort zone, I think trying those experiments and coming up with different things that you can do really helps sort of release the tension a little bit and the anxiety.
Michael: I love it. I’m gonna build on it in two ways that I can think, because I love this question. The first is, when I’m encouraging people to do the same, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as eloquent as asking how might you experiment, but I try and push people. I go, “Look, do it with somebody who’s really safe,” or do it with somebody where you’ve already lost those games so you basically have nothing left to lose anymore. That kind of helps people kind of pinpoint when they might try something out.
And then the other thing it makes me think of is the work of Lisa Lehey and Bob Keegan and immunity to change. And they talk about running a test as part of that process and they call it a smart test, and how do they talk about it? It’s like, small, measurable, actionable, research-based, and … I can’t remember what the T stands for. But I love the idea, and this is what you’re pointing to so brilliantly is, make it small, make it undercover. Don’t make it a big deal.
But see if you can gather some data rather than making it the big thing that needs to change everything.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Absolutely. I think that’s a great time, when you’re going through change, or to your point, if it’s sort of you think it’s all lost. I think it also points to the fun that we can all have when we get feedback, sometimes we sort of retreat and think, “Oh no, world is over.” But if you can kind of come up with a way to have fun with it.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Even if you’re the only person who knows. I don’t know, maybe it’s the mischievousness in me, I love that idea because nobody knows what I’m doing.
Michael: You really do hold it lighter and with more fun and more playfulness; it’s brilliant.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Absolutely. The parallel here for me is around feedback, so we’re talking about coaching, but feedback is so important as well. And I think we’ve made feedback such a scary thing for people, and so if we can have fun and think about feed-forward and how we do things better going forward and coach each other and look for opportunities to help each other be successful, hopefully we can de-mystify it a little bit and take some of the … that, I don’t know, stigma off of feedback.
Michael: Stigma or the anxiety, exactly. Laine Joelson Cohen, Director of Leadership, Executive and Professional Development at Citi. You’re on the Coaching Habit Podcast. Thanks for sharing your one best question with us.
Laine Joelson Cohen: Thanks for having me.