“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
Aristotle provides a useful reminder of the importance of repetition to the sustainability of habits, in this case a worthy one: excellence. The same can be said of mediocrity as countless golfers demonstrate every weekend while flogging their way along, from one elusive hole to the next.
As I worked my way through Michael Bungay Stanier’s lively narrative, I was reminded of another book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, in which Charles Duhigg takes his reader to the cutting edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. He shares an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement. He presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhrigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.
Like Duhrigg, Stanier is a world-class diehard pragmatist who has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why so that he can then share what he has learned with as many people as possible. For example, he offers a number of DOs and DON’Ts to those who are a coach or aspire to become one.
o Ask only one question at a time, then listen attentively.
o Identify and be alert to triggers of behavior, beneficial or not
o Focus on the benefits of good habits and consequences of making the right decisions
o Be specific
o Strengthen skills and techniques that clarify and enrich rapport with those coached
o Create overdependence
o Become overwhelmed
o Be disconnected
o Dominate conversations
o Force closure and completion
These are, of course, guidelines but — in my opinion — they correctly stress the importance of the respective roles. The coach is an empathic, attentive listener who shares knowledge and wisdom strategically; the person coached is someone who needs to be heard and then, when appropriate, provided with information, feedback, and advice that address their needs, interests, and (especially) concerns.
Who should read this book?
I think it will be of greatest benefit to people in five separate but similar areas of a business enterprise: Those who work with a coach; supervisors who assign coaches to their direct reports; those who coach; those who provide informal, on-the-job assistance to associates in need of it; and those who are actively and frequently involved in helping to solve especially serious problems and/or answer especially difficult questions in collaboration with others. Members of a “sprint” team, for example.
Michael Bungay Stanier makes brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that include “From the Box of Crayons Lab” micro-commentaries (Pages 54,70, 126 151, 177, and 199); “Here’s Your New Talent”; “Build Your New Habit Here” exercises embedded within the narrative; and links to online “Watch It Work” videos. These and other resources will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.
The Coaching Habit is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!