The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way Your Lead Forever
March 02, 2016
Michael Bungay Stanier has written an unassuming book that pack a tremendous impact.
I find it interesting what gets taken for granted in our own thoughts and feelings about the world around us, especially the most seemingly mundane, everyday aspects of it. We all feel well-informed because we're constantly taking in more information than ever before, but it has become such a constant spigot, we rarely stop to question how we're taking that information in and processing it, or what assumptions were made and what questions were asked to form that information and get it to us. So, we have built up a mountain of informed assumptions and heuristics that help give us a useful shorthand version of the world we can make sense of at a glance, that makes life, well… functional, manageable, understandable in a way.
There are three reasons I thought about this today and typed the above paragraph.
- I stayed up a little too late last night taking in the Super Tuesday results, and it seems like half the country thinks the other half has lost its mind. The other half thinks similarly about "the other side."
- When we were talking about what kinds of books we tend to focus on as a company in an effort to update our awards categories to make them less tied to traditional, patriarchal business categories and more inclusive of the great work Women Authors in the Business Genre are doing, I used the term "nuts-and-bolts" business book a few times, only to discover a longtime coworker had no idea what I was talking about when I used that term.
- Michael Bungay Stanier's new book, The Coaching Habit.
Whereas most business books try to provide solutions to our business problems, Michael Bungay Stanier's new book provides some fundamental questions. I fully agree with Brené Brown, who writes of the book that "It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, provide and answer or unleash a solution." Michael builds his book on seven such questions, all of which revolve around ways to improve your coaching ability, which Michael believes is the most effective and yet underutilized of six leadership traits. He's better at explaining this than I am, so I'll leave the setup to him:
Daniel Goleman, the psychologist and journalist who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, put a stake in the ground more than fifteen years ago in his Harvard Business Review article "Leadership That Gets Results." He suggested that there are six essential leadership styles. Coaching was one of them and it was shown to have a "markedly positive" impact on performance, climate (culture) and the bottom line. At the same time, it was the least-used leadership style. Why? Goleman wrote, "Many leaders told us they don't have the time in this high-pressure economy for the slow and tedious work of teaching people and helping them grow."
And remember, this was in the halycon days of 2000, when email was still a blessing, not a curse, globalization was just warming up, and we hadn't yet sold our souls to smartphones.
Michael Bungay Stanier is going to convince you that it doesn't have to eat up that much time, and that begins by explaining how coaching, in addition to developing others, helps you.
It lets you work less hard and have more impact. When you build a coaching habit, you can more easily break out of three vicious circles that plague our workplaces: creating overdependence, getting overwhelmed and being disconnected.
Business books have a tendency to be overly "stepified" or formulaic. Often lost in those steps or formulas is the connection to the real people and true purpose of the work you do every day. Michael's book is a "nuts-and-bolts" business book in that prescriptive, formulaic, and actionable. It is literally a work book, containing spaces to write in and build new habits. It contains formulas and steps and tools. The "Seven Essential Questions" he provides are themselves both steps and tools, and if asked consistently and methodically, provide a formula for turning coaching into an everyday habit. And whereas some books lose their tether to our daily realities in their formulas and frameworks and steps and processes, Stanier uses them to reinforce the underlying humanity of it all. Consider the section in which he asks us to "Deepen Focus with the 3Ps," which when he tells us that "The 3P model is a framework for choosing what to focus on in a coaching conversation," seems potentially contrived until you read on (please ignore the Canadian spelling, and focus instead on the extremely rational breakdown of complex problems):
A challenge might typically be centred on a project, a person or a pattern of behaviour.
A project is the content of the situation, the stuff that's being worked on. It's the easiest place to go to and it will be the most familiar to most of us. We spend our days finding solutions to challenges, and our eyes are almost always on the situation at hand. This realm is where coaching for performance and technical change tends to occur. Often, the art is in knowing how to start here and then seeing whether the conversation would benefit from including one or both of the other two Ps.
Have you ever thought, Work would be easy if it weren't for all these annoying people? Surely it's not just me. Certainly, situations are always made more complex when you—in all your imperfect, not-always-rational, messy, biased, hasn't-fully-attained-enlightenment glory—have to work with others who surprisingly, are also imperfect, not always rational, messy, biased, and a few steps short of full wisdom and compassion.
When you're talking about people, though, you're not really talking about them. You're talking about a relationship and, specifically, about what your role is in this relationship that might be currently be less than ideal.
Here you're looking at patterns of behavior and ways of working that you'd like to change. This area is most likely where coaching-for-development conversations will emerge. They are personal and challenging, and they provide a place where people's self-knowledge and potential can grow and flourish. And at the moment, these conversations are not nearly common enough in organizations.
And that said, he follows with the reality that "It's not always appropriate to be having a conversation with this focus. Often enough, having a project-focused conversation is exactly the right thing to do." He then proceeds to tell us how to go about "Putting the 3Ps to Use." It is this that makes this what I would call a "nuts-and-bolts" business book. Which means it is not a "new" kind of business book. It does dive deep into social science, storytelling, and issues of culture in organizations that is more prevalent today, but he uses it to give us an immediately applicable and practical how-to book, replete with new modes and models for thinking about one really important aspect of our lives: our relationships with those we work with, and how we can improve those relationships to improve ourselves and our organizations. It actually sounds rather cold when I say it like that, but I can't think of much that would or should come in the way (nay, trump) that work.
The Coaching Habit is an unassuming book, yet forces us to reframe our assumptions, thoughts, and feelings about the importance and effect of the work we do. The first assumption to fall is that we don't have the time to build an meaningful and impactful relationship with those we lead or oversee in our business. Michael will show you exactly how to instill a coaching practice into your daily routine, and how to make it a habit. Once that domino falls, others will follow and change the way you think and go about your day, which after all are the days that make up the life of your organization.