Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner and Founder of Box of Crayons, a company that gives busy managers the practical tools so they can coach in 10 minutes or less. We had to chance to speak with Michael about the importance of coaching as part of being an effective leader.
How is Box of Crayons different from most other companies who provide leadership coaching?
One thing that probably makes us different from most other companies is that we’ve chosen to be extremely focused in what we do: we give busy managers the practical tools so they can coach in 10 minutes or less.
So we’re focused on busy managers and the reality that they don’t feel they have any time because they’re overcommitted and overwhelmed. And we’re about making coaching an everyday way of working rather than a “Big Thing.” We want coaching to help people work less hard and have more impact, rather than being a burden to add to the workload.
And people say our programs are better than most other corporate training. Which, honestly, isn’t that big a stretch. So much training is slow, theoretical, lecture-y, and slightly patronizing. We strive to make ours practical and fun, using the wisdom in the room.
One of the values listed on your website is to “pursue elegance.” What exactly does that mean?
For me, elegance is the combination of brevity, design, and beauty. It’s echoed in the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” As an example, when I wrote my new book, The Coaching Habit, I was striving to write the shortest book I could that would be the most useful.
What do today’s employees generally want and need from their leaders and managers?
In a previous book, I differentiated between Bad Work (waste-of-time bureaucracy), Good Work (your job description), and Great Work (the work that has more impact and more meaning). And in general, I think most people want to feel they’re doing a little more Great Work.
Combine that with the insight, “people join a company but leave a manager.” They want to have the support and encouragement of a manager – someone who pushes them in the right way and still has their back. (And, you know, who isn’t an a*hole.)
If someone were to say to you, “I know it’s important to provide coaching to my employees, but I really don’t know what that looks like in practice,” how would you respond?
It’s true that everyone’s heard of coaching, but it’s not entirely clear always what that means. In its simplest form, it’s simply this: staying curious just a little bit longer, and rushing to action and advice just a little more slowly.
So bottom line, it’s getting more comfortable and confident in asking a good question or two. And you don’t need that many. In The Coaching Habit, we say that seven good questions will do most of the heavy lifting for you.
What are the benefits of having “well-coached” workers – both for the leader and for the company itself?
It’s important to remember that one benefit of coaching is for the person who’s doing the coaching, because that often gets missed. In fact, in many people’s minds being more coach-like is more of a burden (“I don’t have time for this!”) that a benefit.
But if you’re coaching – staying curious a little longer, rushing to advice and action a little more slowly – you’re helping the other person learn. And in learning, they become more self-sufficient, more confident, smarter, and more autonomous. Which means they’re better able to stretch, focus, and work without you. Which means you get to work less hard and have more impact.
And that ends up benefiting everyone.
Name one step that managers and executives can take today to help them improve their time management skills.
It’s simple and it’s difficult. Say “no” one extra time when you would otherwise have said yes (either explicitly, or implicitly by jumping in and doing it).
When leaders give presentations to their workers, what are some of the things they tend to do wrong or ineffectively?
Different presentations require different experiences, so it’s hard to give a generic answer here. But let me offer up this insight.
The more control you give up as the presenter, the more engaged your audience is going to be. So throw out half of it, and open it up to questions. Or start by asking, “What’s the most important thing for us to discuss?” Or put your presentation up on the wall as posters, get people to read it, then have a conversation. All of that’s going to make you feel anxious. But that’s called giving up control – empowerment by giving up power.
How important will coaching employees be in the future to companies who want to achieve success?
As we’re a company that does just one thing – practical coaching skills for busy managers – we’re really hoping that it’s critical. And we’re confident about our decision. Coaching is a powerful and underused leadership skill; and whether your organization is trying to increase focus, impact, resilience, or engagement, it can be a key part of any strategy.