Interview with Michael Bungay Stanier – Bestselling author of The Coaching Habit

5 February 2024

The Coaching Habit

Here, in brief, are some key lessons from an interview with bestselling author Michael Bungay Stanier:

Beware the Advice Monster. As soon as somebody starts talking, your Advice Monster goes ‘This is brilliant, I’m going to add to this conversation by telling them stuff.’ But when you leap in quickly, a couple of things happen. One, you might start solving the wrong problem. Two, you are training others that you are the answer to all their problems.

Try this: Go a minute without jumping in and giving advice. It’s really difficult. Take a breath, notice the Advice Monster, then, before you tell them your advice, ask another question.

Here is the behaviour you are after: Can you stay curious a bit longer? Can you rush to action and advice giving a bit more slowly?

This helps: Don’t think of yourself becoming a coach, but being more coach-like.

Seven essential questions for leaders:

  • The kickstart question: What’s on Your Mind? It’s a good opening question that works.
  • AWE question: And, what else? Keeps the Advice Monster at bay for a bit longer.
  • The focus question: What’s the real challenge here for you? The person solving the problem will learn, grow, and take responsibility for the problem.
  • The foundation question: What do you want? Ask with a genuine sense of curiosity. It’s a self-management tool too. When you are stressed or wound up, try asking yourself “What do I want?”
  • The lazy question: How can I help? Instead of jumping in with advice, it forces the person presenting the problem to make a clearer request. It’s a good question for replying to long emails. “What do you want from me here?” Send.
  • The strategic question: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? This makes the opportunity cost real. You want to ensure everyone is doing more great work. Great work requires commitment.
  • The learning question: What’s been most useful for you? One of your most powerful roles is to be a teacher, and people learn when they reflect.

Getting to know Michael Bungay Stanier…

Recommended book? Bill Bryson, The Short History of Nearly Everything, as well as Donald Horne, An Imaginary Life. It’s pretty magical.

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would that be, and what would the book title be? Actually, I did talk to Brené Brown about co-authoring a book before she became famous. There’s someone I am doing preliminary collaboration stuff with – Dr Jason Fox. We’ve been doing some podcasting that hasn’t been released yet. It would not be an ordinary title. It would be similar to The Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius.

What’s a great bit of advice you could give? Hold no regrets for your past. Move on from the past. And, focus. I suffer from SOS, the shiny object syndrome. At (Michael’s company) Box of Crayons, holding focus on offering practical coaching skills for everybody has been revolutionary for our company.

What’s been your lowest moment, and how did you recover? I mostly have this incredibly robust sense of self. I’ve got stories of catastrophes and failures, but they were never low moments.

How do you relax? I read a lot, it depends on the book, but I’m a fast reader so I’m probably reading 50-100 books a year. Also, my wife has UAS – Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome, so I also play ukulele with her.

What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you? I finished law school being sued for defamation by one of my lecturers during my law degree. I, and a group of others, complained about the way this lecturer was teaching a certain point of law using an example about a woman being raped. The lecturer eventually dropped the lawsuit.

What’s the secret of success? Be different. I have a bias around this, because it worked for me; I was a Rhodes Scholar, and when I went for the interview, all the other applicants were in a blue suit and white shirt. I had long blonde hair and a purple suit. I was either going to come last by a long way, or they were going to bet on difference!

ref: The Growth Faculty
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