It’s time for a change, time is of the essence, time is money. We’re all obsessed with time. Whether we don’t have enough of it, or we don’t know how to best spend it, in work and in life, we often waste a lot of it. Our business lives are particularly clogged, but a leading mind in business coaching, Michael Bungay Stanier, has the solution. His solution streamlines working hours into uber productive pockets of time that in turn bring greater results and impact.
Based in Canada, Michael is the author of The Coaching Habit. As a published author on leadership-related topics, Michael, together with his company Box of Crayons, has worked with major corporations and organisations including TD Bank, Kraft, Gartner and VMWare, helping over 10,000 time-crunched managers coach in 10 minutes or less.
Q. Hi Michael, what was the inspiration for your book, The Coaching Habit?
A. One of my coaching heroes, Peter Block, says that coaching is not a profession, it is a way of being with each other. I love this notion of coaching being an ongoing way of working and engaging with people. Box of Crayons has been teaching practical training skills to managers so they can coach in 10 minutes are less. I love getting this work out into the world.
Q. What were the biggest challenges involved in writing the book?
A. What I like in a book is a structure that actually works, one that has a real art and shape to it rather than just an accumulation of stories - and has a point of view. So I had to figure out my own point of view. I boiled this down to seven essential questions which then shaped the book. It took four years and four failed attempts to write this book. I don’t mind admitting that I wrote four bad versions before this one.
I also wanted to write the shortest book possible that could be useful. Most are long and ramble on, where someone has taken an idea and stretched it thinly over 200 pages. I wanted mine to be a book you can see in an airport, for example, pick up and feel it is an interesting, quick and easy read. So I had to figure out, what is the least I could write that would be the most impactful? As the famous saying goes, If I had more time, I’d have written less.
Q. What is the essential message that you’d like people to take away from The Coaching Habit?
A. My message is delivered in three parts. The first is that coaching isn’t this weird esoteric, touchy-feely thing - it is a way of interacting and engaging with people. The second; it’s not complicated. It all comes down to asking questions, which proves to be a far more powerful, underused way of leadership. And the third; there are seven great questions that will help you have more impact in the way that you work, allowing you to put in less effort with greater impact.
Q. And what reception have you had?
A. Well, we sold 50,000 copies in six months and it was on the Wall Street Journal best-seller list. We have had very positive feedback from all walks of life. For example, we had a police force in the UK call up and order 120 copies of the book. On the same day, someone who runs a halfway house for ex-criminals in Colorado requested a large quantity for their staff. Reviews tend to champion the book’s practicality and it has been described as entertaining and enjoyable.
Q. So can you give us some examples of your theory in action?
A. At the moment, many organisations are trying to reinvent the performance appraisal process. Currently, these appraisals typically occur once per year where your employer tells you how you are doing, how you can do better. This doesn’t work at all. Let’s stop doing the thing that wastes enormous amounts of time and energy. But what do we replace it with?
My book encourages managers to behave more coach-like throughout their employee’s life, rather than just adopting the role once a year. Our coaching programmes attempt to transform the culture so, as a manager, you can ensure that the best people stay excited, are doing work that makes a difference and crucially, working in a way that makes an impact. In other words, coaching that supports business goals.
Q. Can you tell us more about your writing process?
A. It’s not so much about a process, but what matters is that you write something, somehow. Whether it’s on a laptop in a coffee shop or on a long commute - anywhere so long as you get down and write it. I penned some of this book while on a retreat in Italy with a friend drinking great wine. I would write every morning before we headed out for the day. I know that most people are fresher and better in the morning, so I tried to sit down and write before I responded to too many emails. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Then in the final run I hired an editor to help me set deadlines.
Q. What piece of advice would you give to any managers stuck in a rut?
A. If you would like to feel less overwhelmed, have a team less dependent on you and find a better connection to why you are doing the job you are, then becoming more coach-like is a powerful way to solve all of those problems. Pick a good question to start with and ask it to more people in different situations. Once you see the impact of being curious, you can start shifting your behaviours.
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