Interview with Michael Bungay Stanier: On developing the coaching habit

MichaelBungayStanier600x600Congratulations on your latest book, ‘’The Coaching habit’’ What does this habit look like in practice and what’s the best way to build it?

Michael: The simplest way to describe this habit is: a little less advice and a little more curiosity. When you stop to notice it, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you want to jump in with the advice, the solution, the answer. And while there’s sometimes a place for that, you can often have much more success by asking a good question.


The Coaching Habit boils down 7 core type of questions. If I may pick on two of two of them; the foundation question and the learning question. Could you give examples of such questions and in what situations are these questions key?

In “The Coaching Habit’’ we share the seven questions that we think can most efficiently help a busy manager work less hard and have more impact. The Foundation Question is: “What do you want?” If you ask this question (openly and with genuine curiosity) AND you answer it yourself (“Here’s what I want”) you’ll set yourself up for a powerful and focused conversation. It’s particularly good at cutting through conflict. The Learning Question is the last question in the book. It helps managers play the role of a teacher, and is simply, “What was most useful for you?” Asking the question helps the other person make connections, see value and learn from the conversation.


As you say in your book everyone knows managers and leaders must coach their people. But this does not happen as often as it should. Is there a way to make this happen?

It’s not easy, because most of us are in the habit of just telling people what to do, rather than genuinely coaching them. I think the starting points are;

  • Realize that every interaction with someone can be more coach-like (less advice, more curiosity)
  • Pick one of the Seven Essential Questions and start practicing to make it a habit. Small steps, one question at a time!


How can the ‘’coaching manager/leader’’ make the effects of coaching stick and what’s the role of the person being coached in this regard?

There are three effects of coaching: New insight (about yourself and about the situation); behavior change (ie you do something differently) and increased impact. Insight comes from asking the good questions. And the impact either happens or it doesn’t. So I think the manager’s role is to help them move to action. A useful question might be, “so what will you do differently now?”


What are some of the myths around coaching that in your view have undermined the habit from developing and having a more prominent application and impact in workplaces?

I think the two biggest myths are that coaching is for HR types, and that coaching has to take a long time. In “The Coaching Habit book’’, we’re really clear that coaching is just another leadership tool that anyone can use, and that most of the time you should be able to coach in 10 minutes or less.


What’s a great question? What’s been the most powerful/effective question you’ve asked in your own coaching and work as a leader?

A great question tends to be open, short and useful. My favourite question is “And what else?” because it makes any other question that much more powerful, as it knows that the first answer someone gives is rarely the only answer and often not the best answer.


You’re a huge proponent of people doing ‘’great work’’ instead of busy work. What is great work? How does one get to do it/find it in workplaces where these days people are overwhelmed and overcommitted?

Great Work is the work that has more impact and more meaning. It’s the stuff you signed up for and have been hoping to do when you began your job. I go into detail about how to find, start and sustain your Great Work in a previous book (“Do More Great Work’’), but I’d say the starting point is often just taking the time to ask yourself: What is the work that feels meaningful to me and might have impact? Until you know what the characteristics of your Great Work might be, it’s hard to find it.


In discussions about organizational effectiveness and success the emphasis tends to be on leaders. What do you see as the profile of the manager/leader of the future and how different their role will be from what it is today?

The buzz in management circles is that culture eats strategy. I’m not sure that’s totally true (you still need a good strategy), but it’s true that culture is hugely important. And culture is just another word for habits: how we do things in this place. So I think the role for all of us is asking: what are the habits we want that will serve ourselves and our organizations?


How do you see yourself evolving in order to continue doing great work? 

I have to do the same work as everyone else: slowing down and creating the space to ask myself what my Great Work is now, and what my next Great Work project might be. I find the evolution comes from doing the work.


Michael’s profile

Michael Bungay Stanier is author of several books including ‘’The Coaching Habit’’ and ‘’Do More Great Work’’. He is Founder and Senior partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do more Great work with a focus on helping time-crunched managers coach in 10mins or less. Michael is a well-regarded and engaging speaker to organizations and regularly keynotes at conferences such as HRPA, SHRM, CSTD, Evanta Leadership Series and the Conference Board of Canada. Michael organized the Great Work MBA, a virtual conference featuring 30 world class speakers and had more than 10,000 registered participants. More on Michael’s work at


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