Coaching requires curiosity, commitment, and the willingness to learn new insights alongside your employees. It doesn’t matter if you were just assigned your first team or you’ve been an executive for a decade. There’s always room to grow.
Michael Bungay Stanier (popularly known as MBS) is a mentorship and talent development veteran. He is a best-selling author who has written multiple books on coaching, including “The Coaching Habit,” “The Advice Trap,” and his most recent addition, “How to Work With (Almost) Anyone,” which will be released in late June 2023.
Here are five coaching insights from MBS for any leader who is willing to understand and work with their strengths and their shortcomings, practice staying curious longer, and look for ways to improve how they can help others more effectively.
1. Learning from the Past
It takes two to tango. No argument happens in a vacuum, and no participant in a bad relationship is ever a fully innocent victim. It is tempting to tell ourselves that past workplace connections that ended poorly are the other person’s fault. We understand how they hurt us and what actions they took to damage the connection. But when we focus on that to the exclusion of our own contributions to the problem, we hold ourselves up.
In “How to Work With (Almost) Anyone,” Bungay Stanier discusses the power of revisiting “the Bad Date.” It’s important to emotionally move on from frustrating past relationships. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.
When a relationship goes south, it creates a treasure trove of learning opportunities. As a leader, you can observe how you handled the situation and gather intel about the part you played in making the mess. And when you coach, you can help others to be willing to look at the past and learn. You just might find it has some of the best lessons for the future.
2. Don’t Be a Bottleneck
It’s easy to become a congestion point in the workplace as you run around answering emails, making decisions, working on projects, and providing instruction. If you want to be an effective coach, you have to learn to empower your employees.
This is a common coaching point, but it’s usually provided as a philosophical standard rather than applicable advice. “Delegate responsibilities and empower your employees” sounds good on paper, but what does it look like in practice? In “The Coaching Habit,” MBS goes beyond concepts and explains how bosses can avoid being bottlenecks.
Bungay Stanier doesn’t recommend strict standards or rigid schedules for coaching and delegation-oriented teaching. Instead, he starts by defining coaching as an everyday action – “stay curious a little bit longer, rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly” – and then recommends embracing coaching mode in an informal manner …at all times.
Always look for ways to coach your team, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a random point in the day. This flexible, ongoing training allows you to perpetually empower and pass off responsibilities to team members. The result is a workplace that keeps things moving and people learning at all times.
3. Actively Manage the Work Relationship
In “How to Work With (Almost) Anyone,” Bungay Stanier centers the entire book around one critical coaching concept: the Keystone Conversation. This is a conversation about how you work together, rather than just on what you’re working on. It’s a conversation that can become the foundation of a healthy workplace relationship.
A Keystone Conversation is an exchange of information that helps both people figure out how they’ll bring out the best and avoid the worst in each other. It’s both practical – you share specific working habits and preferences – and personal – you share coaching insights from highs and lows of past working relationships. The Keystone Conversation is an insightful, targeted conversation that helps co-workers learn to operate together in an optimal and healthy manner.
The hardest thing is finding the time for a deeper conversation like this. It’s easy to shoot the breeze or take a new employee out for lunch. But if you want to truly set the stage for upward growth, you need to purposefully invest in the keystone conversations that matter the most.
4. Be Willing to Make the Minor Corrections
Throughout all of MBS’s books, a single, humbling truth becomes apparent. You have to be willing to make minor corrections if you want to see big results. You can’t flip a switch or make a dramatic gesture and expect to see much permanent change or progress. On the contrary, dramatic attempts to fix coaching shortfalls can lead to damaged and unhealthy relationships.
Instead, Bungay Stanier emphasizes the importance of small gestures and behaviors. How you ask a question, for instance, can influence a relationship for years to come. Another example is in “The Advice Trap,” where MBS discusses becoming more generous by using silence, transparency, and appreciation.
These are simple coaching insights that don’t require an enormous amount of work or focus. When applied, though, they can have a dramatic impact. If you invest in making small changes as a coach, you can start to build healthy habits that bring the best out of both you and your team.
5. Don’t Attach Question Marks to Advice
Bungay Stanier isn’t interested in high-minded advice and lofty coaching concepts. He provides actionable tips and tactics that coaches can immediately apply in the workplace. One of the simplest and most impactful of these, which MBS breaks down in “The Coaching Habit,” is the recommendation to stop giving advice with a question mark attached.
Mentors and coaches love to lean on popular phrases like “Have you thought about this?” or “What about this?” This can come across as pandering if you’re talking to a frustrated employee who’s already exhausted their knowledge and resources. It can also be intrusive if you’re offering advice as someone who isn’t qualified to do.
Instead, ask more constructive questions. Look for the real problem together. This supports and disarms your employees rather than putting them on the defensive.
MBS: Coaching Wisdom in the Workplace
Michael Bungay Stanier has spent his life creating some of the best employee development advice in the world. From the best-selling coaching book of this century “The Coaching Habit” to groundbreaking new books like “How to Work With (Almost) Anyone,” Bungay Stanier is blazing the trail for professionals, and especially leaders, to become better coaches.
MBS provides practical advice that fuels the ongoing development that is always taking place in the workplace. When you apply these simple-yet-profound tips, it brings the most out of everyone — including yourself.
The article was originally published on ReadWrite.