10 minutes with Michael Bungay Stanier

You’ve probably heard a lot about coaching. Maybe you’ve even had a coaching session or two in your lifetime. But we’re sure you’ve never had a coach like Michael Bungay Stanier.

10 minutes with Michael Bungay Stanier
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You’ve probably heard a lot about coaching. Maybe you’ve even had a coaching session or two in your lifetime. But we’re sure you’ve never had a coach like Michael Bungay Stanier, a Rhodes scholar who has worked with companies such as AstraZeneca and Xerox. His book, The Coaching Habit, is a coaching manual that will help anyone become a (better) coach. We had the opportunity to sit down with Michael and ask a few questions. Continue reading for some insights from this coaching guru. You won’t regret it!

getAbstract: A lot of people have heard about coaching, but they might not know exactly what to expect from a coach. So, our first question is, what exactly is coaching?

Michael: Well, I think there are three types of coaching that show up in organizations.

The first is executive coaching, and that’s when you hire somebody – an executive coach from outside – and they come in, support you, encourage you, help you focus and be more strategic, and help you deal with difficult people. They’re like a champion and a sounding board for you. There’s always a limit to how many executive coaches any organization can afford and often they end up working with senior people or what they call high potentials.

The second type of coaching is when you identify people within your organization that can fulfill that role. Then they receive training – from an HR business partner, for example – to do what an executive coach does.

The third type of coaching is when all managers and leaders say to themselves, “Look, being more coach-like is a great form of leadership.” So, they lift their game to be more coach-like so that they can build stronger teams and get better results. That’s the thing that we’re most interested in at Box of Crayons. We ask ourselves “how do we help everybody be more coach-like so that they can have teams that are happier and more effective, and they can have the results that help the team and the organization.”

getAbstract: When managers recognize the need to become more coach-like, how can they get started?

Michael: The three principles that we talk about to help managers and leaders become more coach-like are: be lazy, be curious and be often.

People always laugh or smile when I say be lazy because it sounds contradictory. The people who would read this interview aren’t lazy people! But with “be lazy,” we mean that you have to slow down the jumping to fix things, and do things for the other person. It doesn’t mean you can’t be helpful, it means you should let them do the work first, rather than doing it yourself.

The second principle is to be curious. Recognize that you’re an advice-giving maniac. You love giving advice. Sometimes you don’t even know what the problem is, but you’re already offering suggestions and solutions to the other person.

Being often is about recognizing that every interaction you have with somebody can be a bit more coach-like. In other words, we’re not trying to take somebody aside and say, “This is your coaching session now; I’m going to coach you.” That always sounds a little bit weird. It’s about being a little bit more curious every time you meet with the other person and being a bit slower with the action and advice.

getAbstract: And how can you make sure that the coaching is truly useful?

Michael: Well, it’s impossible to guarantee that it’s going to be truly useful. What we’ve found, however, is that a few very good questions can increase the chances that it will be useful for that employer. That’s what The Coaching Habit book is about.

We say that seven very good questions can take you a long way down the path towards making your coaching really useful. I’ll give you three of them.

The first question is “what’s on your mind?” It’s a “kick-start” question, and it helps you quickly get into a conversation that really matters. So often as managers and leaders, we spend a lot of time trying to find out where the meat is and what’s on your mind. This question will help you get there much faster.

The second question is “what’s the real challenge here for you?” That’s the focus question. We think that the first challenge somebody mentions is the real challenge, but often, it isn’t. It’s just their best guess or their first idea. This question help people figure out what the real challenge is so that they don’t waste their time trying to solve the less important challenge.

Third question is “what else?” In the book, we call this the best coaching question in the world, because the first answer somebody gives you is never the only answer, and it’s rarely the best answer. Asking “what else” allows you to go a little bit deeper and find out what other ideas and perspectives that person might have.

getAbstract: We’re curious about your clients. What’s the most common problem they have?

Michael: Well, it depends at which level you’re talking about. One of the biggest problems is people saying “I don’t have time for coaching and why would I bother?”

Part of what we do is about helping people to understand that coaching isn’t an additional burden. Everybody is busy, over-committed and slightly overwhelmed, so nobody wants to have an additional task added to their to-do list. We show people that being more coach-like is about transforming what they already do so that they end up working less hard but having more impact in the work they do. We show people that they can coach in 10 minutes or less.

The other key challenge is that people have had lots of practice – years and years of practice – telling people what to do. We’ve been rewarded all our lives for being the person with the answer. In our school, university and work, if we have the answer, people say “well done!” There’s still a place for giving people the answer and providing advice, but what we’re trying to do is break down some old habits so that people stay curious a little bit longer. For that, it’s important to know how to build a new habit because that gives you the opportunity to start changing your behavior. That’s what this is all about!

getAbstract: So how can you start creating a coaching habit?

Michael: My suggestion would be that you build one good habit at a time. Often when people come to our courses or read a book they say, “Yes, I love this, I’m going to change everything about everything that I do!” That’s a little bit like New Year’s resolutions. If you try and do everything, nothing gets done.

What I’d suggest is you identify one coaching habit that you’d like to build. Identify one situation, something that keeps coming up, and identify the old behavior that is no longer useful. Then identify the new behavior by asking the seven questions from The Coaching Habit book.

So, you know, the short answer is build your coaching habits slowly – one habit at a time – and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

getAbstract: That’s fantastic advice, Michael. Thank you!

If you want to learn more about coaching, head over to Box of Crayons or get The Coaching Habit book or summary!

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