How to Change the Way You Lead in a Small Business

michael-bungay-stanierEvery week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael is the Author of The Coaching Habit and the Senior Partner and Founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. For more information, http://www.boxofcrayons.biz.

SmallBizLady: IF PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT IS DEAD, WHAT’S FILLING THE VOID?

Michael Bungay Stanier: The answer to this hasn’t quite yet emerged, but it is clear that coaching is part of the solution. Managers are crazy busy, and if they don’t have time to coach in 10 minutes or less, then they don’t have time to coach at all.

My latest book, The Coaching Habit, offers seven questions that (once they replace old management habits) are practical and easily applicable so that every interaction – long or short, formal or informal – can become a moment of effective, on-the-spot coaching. It’s a combined commitment to profound behaviour change and getting to the work that has more impact and more meaning, all while being cognizant of the very real time constraints and conditions under which most busy managers work.

SmallBizLady: HOW DO YOU BUILD A HABIT THAT STICKS?

Michael Bungay Stanier: I’m indebted here to Charles Duhigg, B.J. Fogg and others who have written about habits. My thought about successfully creating a new habit centres around the major need to identify what your own “triggers” are – those moments when your old ways of behaving become almost knee-jerk – and transforming those moments into a chance to identify old habits and begin to form new ones.

SmallBizLady: IN BUSINESS MEETINGS, HOW DO YOU STOP THE CHIT CHAT AND GET TO THE REAL HEART OF A CONVERSATION FAST?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Everyone who has worked in any kind of organization knows how many hours are wasted in meetings and one-on-ones that don’t accomplish anything or identify the real problem. The solution to this is more multivalent, but it starts with a really solid opening line that cuts through the chit chat and gets to the thick of things quickly.

The very first question, which I call the “Coaching Bookends”, is: “What’s on your mind?” It’s deceptively simple, but it forces the addressee to quickly get to the point.

SmallBizLady: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST POWERFUL COACHING QUESTION IN THE WORLD?

Michael Bungay Stanier: In sticking with the theme of deceptive simplicity, I think the most powerful coaching question in the world is one whose acronym is AWE: “And what else?” It may seem like three innocuous little words, but it really is the best coaching question in the world. That’s because the first answer is never the only answer and rarely the best answer. There are more answers to be found and possibilities to be generated. And equally as important, it slows down the “Advice Monster”, that part of every manager that wants to leap in and take over; give advice or be an expert, or solve the problem.

SmallBizLady: WHY IS OUR IMPACT ON THE DECLINE WHILE OUR BUSY-NESS IS GOING UP?

Michael Bungay Stanier: I think the answer to this is a combination of overwhelm and narrow-mindedness. We’re too busy to slow down and think strategically and too busy pushing all the individual peanuts forward, which results in us solving the wrong problems.

We tend to misidentify the real problem as the first problem that arises. But one question, the Focus Question – “What’s the real challenge here for you?” – helps us to slow down our rush to fix the first problem, so that we can get at the heart of the real challenge

The key to an effective coaching conversation is to start strong, provide the opportunity for the conversation to deepen, and then bring things into focus.

SmallBizLady: IS THERE ANOTHER REASON WE’RE ALL SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEMS?

Michael Bungay Stanier: We are continually distracted by three familiar patterns that can keep us from honing in on the real challenge: Proliferation of Challenges; Coaching the Ghost; and Abstractions and Generalizations.

As you list the many challenges at hand, you experience the kind of overwhelm that’s now become Standard Operating Procedures. You’re likely to begin solving the problem that seems easiest to solve, which may not even be a real problem.

Slowing down to ask yourself and your team, “What is the real challenge here for you?” can really help you to:

  • focus on the challenge that might be at the heart of everything else that seems to be proliferating;
  • avoid the habit of sliding into workplace gossip when you’re supposed to be conducting a useful meeting (I call this tendency “Coaching the Ghost”); and
  • cut through the Generalizations and Abstractions that occurs when everyone talks around the problem or lists the problems in general but don’t have any actionable takeaways when the meeting is over.

SmallBizLady: WHAT IS THE SECRET OF EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP?

Michael Bungay Stanier: You’re going to think I’m just trying to sound controversial, but my answer is: laziness. This does not mean that you’re not doing anything. It means that you’re committed to empowering others by not “rescuing” them all the time. This is related to taming that “Advice Monster.” It might come as a surprise that sometimes managers’ desire to be helpful can actually have a disempowering effect on the person being helped.

The Lazy Question, “How can I help?”, works in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request by forcing her to get clear on what she wants or needs help with. Second, it is a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy. It prevents you from spending time doing things you think people want you to do and opens up more time for you to do the work that matters.

SmallBizLady: HOW CAN WE RE-THINK STRATEGY?

Michael Bungay Stanier: People tend to think strategy is mostly about answers. But questions provide more potential for strategic insight. We’re continually taught to “go for the Yes,” but it’s actually more strategic to slow down and ask: “Where or how could my time be better spent?” This sometimes means “going for the No.” I admit, this isn’t always easy for me.

SmallBizLady: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE HARDEST QUESTION FOR AN AMBITIOUS LEADER?

Michael Bungay Stanier: The hardest question for the ambitious leader, also known as the Strategic Question, is: “If you’re saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?”

Ask this question if:

  • you’re someone who feels compelled to say Yes to every request or challenge;
  • you’re overwhelmed and overcommitted; and
  • you’ve lost your focus and spread yourself too thinly.

This question helps make the promise real, and in some ways, it’s the hardest question of all to face.

Because I know that, at least for me, the thing I’m always saying No to is my best work, my Great Work. It’s so much easier to get to all of the little things that seem more pressing, but in the end, it doesn’t have much impact or meaning. They’re just easier to do; they don’t challenge me or bring me to the edge of my own capabilities. No one likes being on that edge, but that’s where the really impactful things happen.

There’s a certain amount of routine work that needs to get done. But what if everyone in your organization was doing even just 10% more of their work on that innovative edge?

SmallBizLady: WHAT IS THE REAL CAUSE OF MOST WORKPLACE DYSFUNCTION?

Michael Bungay Stanier: In the context of organizational behavior, The Drama Triangle helps to explain why most managers spend their time ineffectively overworking, and frustrating themselves and their team in the process. The three points on the triangle are: rescuer, persecutor and victim.

You can probably see where you and your colleagues tend to gravitate, but the real insight here is learning how habitual roles prevent managers and teams from getting the real work done. Understanding these three roles and how to escape them can be a profound catalyst for behaviour change.

SmallBizLady: WHAT KIND OF NEUROSCIENCE IS BEHIND HOW WE REALLY ENGAGE AT WORK?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Neuroscience is the new frontier in management and leadership skills. Brain-based science is giving us a deeper understanding of how we really work and the implications for being an effective leader. Engagement is rooted in an individual’s sense of belonging and autonomy. Understanding how to foster that environment is crucial to having a team that’s maximally engaged and thus positioned to do their best work.

SmallBizLady: IF YOU HAD TO GIVE A BUSY MANAGER ONLY ONE TIP ON HOW TO BECOME A BETTER COACH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Michael Bungay Stanier: My one tip would be: Give less advice and ask more questions.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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