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Coaching Lessons from Howard Stern

Ok, I get it. You might not be a Howard Stern fan. You might have been disgusted by butt bongo fiesta, or shocked by lesbian dial-a-date. Howard is not for everyone, however, there is one thing that seems to be a consensus between his fans and detractors alike: He is a FANTASTIC interviewer.

There are several reasons as to why Howard gets so much out of his guests: He has built a comfortable environment in his studio with lush couches and pillows, he does not have a studio audience so most of the time it seems as if he and his guests are having a private conversation, and he has no commercial interruptions during interviews that last one, to one and a half hours each.

However, the most meaningful reason Howard’s interview style is so compelling is because he uses a coach approach to interviewing. This is not something that happened right away, you can clearly see the evolution of his style from his years of terrestrial radio to his ascension at Sirius XM, but it is very clear that he started shifting his style from manic and self-centered to curious excitement.

Ok… full disclosure…  this is my realization, and I might be biased because I am a coach, but nonetheless there are clear indications that Howard is using a coach approach to get the most out of his interviews. Here is my take:

Howard is genuinely curious about his guests

One of the key attributes of successful coaches is being genuinely curious about their clients. This allows them to coach anyone through any scenario without being an expert. Being curious leads to probing questions and many times insights and breakthroughs that would otherwise not occur. In fact, being curious about other people may be one of the cornerstones of coaching.

Howard is extremely curious no matter who his guest is. He is equally fascinated by Daniel Day Lewis’ method acting as he is Jeff the Drunk’s ability to live with a non-functioning arm. This curiosity leads to unexpected questions that give you more insight on the person being interviewed. Plus it makes US, the listeners,  just as curious as he is.

He asks “Who” questions

As a coach, it is important to not only understand your client’s situation, but also truly understand WHO your client is. What their motivations, fears and challenges are. How do they see the world and how they see themselves. You will not be able to move your client forward if you don’t first find out who they are. The way that you do this is by asking “who” questions. Questions that will give you insight as to what is below the surface. Questions such as “What makes this important to you?”.

Howard is the king of who questions. He digs deep to try and find out what his guests’ real motivations are. At times, he even dives into quasi therapy to understand deeper motivations. Regardless, he is looking to find out who the person truly is, and not the celebrity persona of his guests. Most of Howard’s listeners comment that they come into an interview with pre-conceived notions of a particular guest only to come out with a completely different impression. Lady Gaga is the clearest example of that. Most of Howard’s male listeners could not care less about her, but by the end of the interview they were willing to give her a shot. That is because they now know a little bit more about who she really is.

Howard’s storytelling is quick and used to move the conversation along

In coaching, storytelling is a tool to provide information, insights and to move the conversation along. Given that in a true coaching session a coach should be only talking only 20% of the time, it is important that storytelling has a purpose so that it does not take the time away from questions, strategy and acknowledgement. Furthermore, it is easy to make storytelling about yourself, when your focus should be on your client.

Howard is an amazing storyteller. I mean, he needs to fill four hours of airtime every day, which would be impossible if he did not tell stories. In fact, you can make an argument that the reason Howard has such a following is his ability to make mundane activities (such as getting coffee) into compelling tales. However, when it comes to his interviews, good ol’ Howie takes a back seat and only tells stories if it will lead to something. Most of the time he is acknowledging the guest by telling a story in which he had a similar experience, like when he says he was enamored with being part of a movie production. Sometimes though, his storytelling is used to lead to further discussion like when he discusses his challenging childhood in Roosevelt, NY to lead his guests to discuss challenges in their life.

He is constantly acknowledging and praising his guests

A big part of coaching is acknowledging. This is the art of being able to tell people that you understand, can relate, and that they are being seen and valued. Acknowledging needs to become intrinsic in coaching your clients as they need someone that can stand by their side, motivate them, and tell them that they are moving in the right direction. Being able to do so not only provides the client with the strength to achieve their goals, but also fulfills them emotionally.

Howard cannot stop acknowledging his guests. He constantly gushes about their accomplishments, how they beat the odds to become successful, how they had such a challenging past and were able to overcome it, how their music is brilliant, how their acting is moving, how many successful movies they had, what a great parent they might be. He goes on, on and on and on. By doing so he is not only creating a safe environment, but he is making his guests comfortable to share what they want, because they know that across the room there is someone who appreciates them, who understands and who is on their side.

Howard creates a safe environment

In coaching, it is critical for you to build a safe environment so that your clients are free to share their truest challenges, fears and feelings. Without it your progress will be superficial at best, and non-existent at it’s worse. A safe environment is one of non-judgement, of support, and of freedom. Once you have built that, your clients will be able to not only connect better with you, but also be secure enough to work on what they truly need to.

Howard is ADAMANT about creating a safe environment. Which is humorous since so many people are afraid of coming on the show in fear that they will be attacked. The truth is that Howard is looking to highlight his guests and not corner them. He feels that it is more compelling to listen and understand the person’s point of view than to attack them. That is why he can make an interview with Alex Jones, the political commentator, conspiracy theorist and overall nut job, compelling. It would be easy for Howard to address how kooky Alex Jones is, question him on why he sells products that are not medically approved, or to call out that he is doing harm by saying that 9/11 was a conspiracy theory.  Instead, Howard does not attack, he probes about Alex’s views which leads to compelling stories and a good interview. The truth is that Howard does not need to attack Alex Jones to make him look like a crazy person, Alex does that all on his own. If he went the other way the interview would last a couple of minutes and Howard would have gotten nothing out of it.

 He makes it about the guest

In coaching, our mantra should be: It is all about the client. It’s not about you, your feelings, your judgements, your insights, your stories or your knowledge. It’s not about how much you can influence, advise or lead. It is about your clients achieving their own breakthroughs and solutions because THEY are the ones who will be living with their actions and decisions. A job of a coach is to remove themselves from the coaching experience by allowing their clients to develop what is best for them. All a coach does is facilitate the conversation.

Howard makes it clear that his interviewees are the most important person in the room. ALWAYS. That is why he only wants to interview people who WANT to be on the show. He wants them to go through the experience and make their appearance memorable. All that Howard is doing is facilitating the process. He does not bring up subjects that a guest does not want to talk about. If a guest wants to change directions he obliges with tact. Finally, he makes the interview a showcase of everything his guest is about, further bringing exposure to their projects and initiatives. Howard believes that if you get to know the person, you will be more compelled to check out their work. And that is how he gets people to come back again and again.

Howard actively listens

Being able to actively listen is THE key skill a coach needs to develop. Being able to fully absorb what your client is saying without thinking about your next question is critical to the coaching process. Your client deserves to be heard and be valued, and you can only do this if you shut up and listen.

Howard is an AMAZIN… fine. I can only squeeze so much blood out of a stone right. Howard sucks at listening. He is so excited to ask his next question (because he is genuinely curious) that he constantly interrupts or changes directions. I mean the man is a legend, but let’s be honest… you can’t have it all.

Andre Mello is a Business Coach and Howard Stern super-fan. He has been in leadership and marketing for over 16 years. To connect with Andre, visit www.wysecoaching.com.

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