JP will never forget the time he was coached live on stage, in front of thousands of Microsoft employees, by one of the world’s leading coaches: MBS. The experience was both humbling and empowering – it showed JP the full extent of the impact that a great coach could make.
In this episode, JP and MBS reconnect to discuss the steps we can all take to become that great coach – for ourselves and the people around us.
JP: Welcome to the Positive Leadership Podcast. This is JP, and we have the pleasure to have a very wonderful guest, Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael, welcome to this podcast.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: JP, this is going to be a great conversation. I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for having me on. JP, it's really nice to be back. I love talking to you. We've had some great chats over the years, so thank you for having me on the podcast. I'm flattered.
JP: Let me just say a few words about you, Michael, If you don't mind, I mean, you are clearly the number one leader in coaching. I think that's clearly the case. You are author of a bestseller, The Coaching Habit, and know you’ve just ended a new book, which I think will be released in January, called How to Begin. You also have a fellow podcast, Two Pages with MBS. Don’t confuse, which asks people to share two pages of a book that made a difference to their lives. It's a fantastic concept, by the way. You're an Australian, you studied in the UK, but you are now living in Canada with your wife, your own businesses. You’ve founded the consultancy Box of Crayons. You've been a consultant with many companies around the world, including Microsoft, my own company as well, by the way. And now you are leading MBS Works and you also coached me live on stage in front of thousands of Microsoft people just a few years ago.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: That was really exciting. That was an amazing experience,
JP: And now I continue, Michael. People talk with me about this, that they kept that in mind for sure. And in this particular podcast, Michael, I'm talking a lot about the importance of coaching as well. At the end of season one, I had a great conversation with Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, right? He shared some great insights into how a successful sports coach motivates this team, but today we'll talk about your approach to business and life coaching as well and how the listeners can apply again some of the lessons that you've developed and techniques, of course, that you are proposing. So I'd like to start with you, Michael, telling me, telling us, sorry, your story. How did you become a coach? Because I think you started your career in new product development, so why did you end up as a coach?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, you know, the seed got planted pretty young. I was as a teenager growing up in Canberra, in Australia, particularly, as a kind of, in 18,19, I just remember finding myself sitting in a car with a friend after we'd gone out at night and my friend was telling me all about his or her kind of angst filled life. You know, it's so hard and this and that. And I was listening to these conversations and I was a pretty good listener, but I really didn't know what I was doing, and I wasn't sure whether I was helping or harming or whether I could be doing things more effectively. So I took my first training as a crisis counsellor, like a phone crisis counsellor, a youth suicide hotline and the like. And that was the first experience I had around what does it mean to ask a question? What does it mean to stop and listen to the answer? How do you get below the surface to find out what's at the heart of what's going on? And so that's where an early seed was planted, and I continued doing forms of that work for some years. And then, as you said, when I finally stumbled out of university and I didn't know what to do with my life, I ended up in this kind of new product development company. And it was very exciting in lots of ways, because, you know, the first two years of your working life, you're just trying to figure out how to work, what does it mean to have a job and who am I now if I'm not a student? And they were pretty maverick, you know, they liked the fact that I had long hair and earrings and I made my own clothes and I was a bit weird. That's interesting. We like that. It's a kind of a bit of madness in the mix. But there came a point, JP, where I played a very small role in helping to invent stuffed crust pizza for Pizza Hut. I helped invent a whisky for Diageo, which I just looked this up recently, somebody said this is the worst single malt whisky ever invented. And I just came to this point where I'm like, I don't want to die with played a very small role in helping stuffed crust pizza on my gravestone. That's not a good life. That's not the best version of me at all. So that then just took me onto a path more into what does it take for people and organisations really to flourish? And so I moved into the world of change management and organisational development and worked as a consultant there for a number of years. And then it was only when my wife and I had been living in Boston and were like, Ok Boston's not quite working for us. So we went to our local pub. We had some beers because we're in Boston. If we're in Paris, we'd have had good wine, of course, but we had some beers. We wrote down three… And after some beers, we each wrote down the name of three cities on a beer coaster flipped them over and Toronto made both beer coasters, so we decided to move to Toronto. All very exciting. It's just like that. Exactly. But our flight out of Boston was on 9/11. So a very confusing time. We finally made it across the border. The job I had disappeared. I got a temporary job, but then got fired from that. I was like ok what am I doing? That's where I kind of more fully committed to a) becoming a coach and then really finding my groove when I discovered what I loved doing was teaching other people how to be more coach-like because I think coaching is a powerful technology that unlocks the best of us. And so that's a lot of the work that I do is going, how do I make coaching un-weird? How do I make it feel practical? How do I make it feel like it can be part of everyday conversations between all sorts of people, not just leaders and their teams, but human to human?
JP: No, it's wonderful. So from a crispy pizza to coach-like every day, right?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: I feel like I'm moving in the right direction.
JP: And it’s tasty as well. So bridging what you just said, Michael, you know, because something you know, having discussed with a lot of people all the time, is a sports coach, different than a professional coach or what it's called today a life coach? I mean, there are so many coaches we can find now anywhere in the world. So do you find some commonalities or some basic principles?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, there's a there's a fair amount of discussion about this in the kind of coaching world. Are they the same? Are they different? Because when you think of sports coaches, you often think about people who have technical expertise and it kind of giving technical guidance, you know, like, do this on this run, this training drill. But if you step back, you understand that what everybody is trying to achieve is trying to heighten people's skills while increasing their sense of autonomy and confidence and competence. And that's true if you're coaching people on your team or you're coaching people on the Seattle Seahawks. So then it's like, so what are the tactics that work best for that? And what we found in organisational coaching is there's always a place for advice and technical guidance, but it's often best not to lead with that. In some circumstances, sure. But you know, my mantra is just a curious a little bit longer because stuff gets figured out without you needing to tell people what to do. And I mean, I remember reading an article not long ago about the New Zealand All Blacks. So for maybe North American listeners who are less familiar with with rugby, the All Blacks are really one of the most successful teams of all time in rugby union. They’re this tiny little nation, but they they dominate rugby union. They’re just this force. And if you're if you're French and you support Les Bleus and the team or you're Australian like, I am and you support the Wallabies, yeah, they're really annoying because they just constantly beat us. And I remember seeing an interview with the coach of the All Blacks. He was like, you know, I mostly let these these smart professionals figure the stuff out themselves. So, you know, you’ll know better than me because you've had that great conversation in the last season with Pete Carroll. But I do think that a lot of it is going, Look, I've got a ton of technical expertise. That's why I'm hired as the coach. But if I'm smart, I'm going, look, you know, to the player what do you already know? What have you figured out? What do you think's going on here? What's the real challenge for you and all of this? And when you blend that curiosity with technical guidance, I think, broadly speaking, the principles are going to be the same.
JP: No, I mean, I think it's something I really enjoyed learning from Pete Carroll as well as you said and his win for every philosophy you could see that all of it is about really enabling a better version of his players one by one, one at a time and always, so individually and collectively. Michael, I'd like to go back in on the way you helped me personally become more of a coach-like manager because I've been also clearly experiencing your approach. And I think there are three key things you talk a lot about all the time. You started actually mentioning one of them. Be lazy. You tell me, JP, be lazy. Stop working so hard. Jumping in, fixing things. Let your teams do the work, right? So they can actually practice. They can grow. They can learn and succeed. Number two, be often. Meaning really, don't wait for the, you know, the right unique moment to catch because you can catch any time, anywhere spontaneously when it makes sense actually to capture this moment. And the third one, of course, that was already mentioned. Be curious. That's a huge one stop giving so much advice. Calm your advice monster and slow down the rush to offer up solutions and ideas.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: You know my ideas better than I do. This is fantastic.
JP: You're so good at articulating them over and over again, which hopefully we capture. In your book The Advice Trap, you talk about the three personas we all have who are feeding what you call the advice monster. Let me call them Mr. or Mrs. Tell It, right, that we have in ourselves, which is basically thinking that the only way to add value is to tell someone and give a solution. Number two, Mr. or Mrs. Save it, rescue everyone you can, because that's so fulfilling. I can confirm that. And number three, Mr. Mrs. Control It. Control freak because I can relate a lot of that as well in my life when I try always to be in control of as much as I can. So the real question for you, Michael, is how do you really become more like coach-like right and at work, but also in your life? What does it really take?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, let me ask, let me turn the question back to you, JP, because you know, that's what I like to do. I like to ask questions. I answer them like, I mean, you shed a lot there. You know, there's there's questions, but there's these principles about be lazy, be curious, be often. There's understanding the advice monsters, just as you beautifully summarised. Which of those, if you had to pick one, which felt most revolutionary or most kind of important to you as you shifted your leadership style?
JP: Clearly be lazy. Be lazy, because for so much of the time, right growing from my first line management position like many years back, 36 years back probably, all the way to now, Michael, I've been really always rushing to help people. I mean, with some good intent, by way, to try to immediately jump into a solution, into recommendation, into an option. And that encouragement to me, I mean, I realise as well, to be honest, as I was growing up a little bit with my more maturity, more grey hair as well and more. Yeah, a bit of more wisdom. Maybe, hopefully that the more I could offer a platform for everyone I was working with to basically build their own growth, build their own solution, build their own path for achieving more. That was so much powerful in many ways. And so that has been the most, yeah, the most profound, I would say, take away.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Yeah, it’s provocative. I mean, I wrote it deliberately to be provocative because most of the people that I end up working with, and you're a perfect example, they wouldn't naturally describe themselves as lazy people. They're typically driven, ambitious, hardworking people who they enjoy their work and they're like, I love this. I love the business. I love the commitment to it. I've got big dreams for myself and for the world and for my business. And being lazy feels quite counterintuitive. But it's not just that, because when I say, but, you know, slow down, jumping in and fixing other people's problems for them, create space for them. Most people intellectually get that. There’s a deeper resistance JP, which is, well, how am I adding value? Am I still being helpful if I'm not being helpful and giving people the ideas and the solutions and the opinions? And one of the the deeper resistances, and this is the kind of why I created the advice monsters, because they actually speak to kind of deeper ego states that keep us wanting to jump in and not staying curious a little bit longer is that we're like, Well, you know, if I'm not giving advice, who am I? And if I'm not taking care of this person, who am I? And if I'm handing over control of this conversation or this project or this moment to the other person, who am I? So it takes a degree of self work on your sense of self and confidence to say… Look my job is to, you know, particularly in the corporate setting to enable greatness around me, and that means actually de-centring myself. And that's and that's an odd experience if, like we mostly do in our careers, we spend a lot of time trying to centre ourselves, pay attention to me, promote me, let me leave this team, let me take on this challenge to then go, but how do I now get out of the way so other people can step into what's required requires a certain degree of courage.
JP: No, this is so well said Michael. This notion of de-centering myself, not being any more at the centre of the world, but being there to serve the others so that they can achieve more and you can achieve through their success a lot more together. You know, coming back again, we talk about being lazy, talking about that curiosity. At Microsoft, as you know because we've been working together, we’re trying to grow and nurture individual and collective growth mindset, right, as we call it, is indeed core to an evolving culture. But it's also a philosophy shared by many of the the podcast guests I had, you know, Pierre Dubuc, CEO of Open Classroom, which is a mission led enterprise to make education accessible to everyone on the planet and of course, Satya Nadella by by design, I would say. So I think curiosity is a big part of having a growth mindset. And over the past several years, in my role at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to practice it more and more. You know, I enjoy, as an example, attending hundreds of meetings, visiting sites at the time I could travel, of course, it's coming back now, which is great news and learn from some of the largest global companies, CEOs, CXOs, on the way those people, companies are delivering really on their missions and the way they execute their strategies as they transform. I know those are big words we use in a corporate life. But more importantly, what I learned through that curiosity, Michael, was how to discover the real burning issues, and behind those burning issues for people in that position and their companies is to reveal some unique opportunities to create a real, differentiated digital innovation value that would eventually become a game changer for those people and companies as they realise that's the burning issue they need. They need themselves to find a solution, not me. And in what I realised over the past few years is basically this is not just about adopting tech, that would be so easy with AI, but fundamentally it's about the culture, the skillset, the mindset of the leaders and the entire organisation to enable that. So just wanted to thank you for enabling my curiosity and certainly building on that. You know, you wrote this very successful book, which I read in English, in French version as well to see the fidelity of the worlds in my own language. The book The Coaching Habit. And that was actually back in 2016, so a long time before the pandemic hit the world. And, you know, Satya Nadella actually has been sharing the new hybrid work environment as the biggest shift in how we work in a generation. So I’d like to really hear you in terms of your own experience, with your clients, with all the people, companies you interact with. Are you seeing any new coaching habits and patterns emerging in the art of coaching because of the pandemic? And how would you characterise that?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, I mean, the first thing I just want to acknowledge is, you know that when you're talking about your curiosity and meeting other organisations and understanding what's going on, because I want to make the link between the questions that we've been talking about and being more coach-like and being more curious, just to recognise that it's not just a one to one conversation where that works. You know, strategy in some ways is like, do you have the courage to figure out what the real challenge is and commit to solving that and figuring that out? So this idea of curiosity is a scalable skill in terms of it affects culture and it affects strategy as the two kind of main entwining things that make organisational success. In terms of this move to hybrid working or working from home and the like, you know, there's a lot going on, and I think it can amplify the best and the worst of what it means to to try and lead. If you assume that when people are working from home, you have… Or it's even more obvious about the lack of control you have on those other people, the lack of insight you have on how they spend their hours. You start thinking well…. And also on the flip side, you go and these people are missing in some ways, the the connection and the serendipity of how we connect and maybe feeling a bit isolated, a bit lonely, a bit disconnected. Not everybody, but some people for sure. You then go, What leadership is required for me to be most effective when I'm trying to work with people and I'm trying to work that way myself? So there's a way that, you know, this shift in behaviour brings out or can invite the kind of the worst of surveillance capitalism. All right, we're going to track keystrokes. We're going to track how long your computer's on. I just read an article the other day about a guy who said, Look, I'm lazy. I try and work as little as possible. I just run a black screen YouTube video for 12 hours on my computer, so it looks like my computer is active, so my manager checking in can kind of go, ok, apparently he's doing something. But it's also an invitation to kind of, as I would put it, step into the light to go, Look when you're more coach-like, what I hope for people is that you're trying to do two things. You’re focused on the human and going, how are you thriving? What does it take to to support you and being the best version of yourself, both in terms of your contribution to the work, but just as a human being? And also, how do we focus on the work that really matters? Because coaching isn't just about making people feel good. It's about bringing out the best of people and focusing on the work that matters most. And one of the things that possibly happens is that, you know, under pressure, the trivial many gets stripped away and you focus on the critical few. But to focus on the critical few, you have to have somebody with the discipline to go, what’s the critical few? What's the real challenge? What's the hard thing? And so learning how to trust, learning how to grant autonomy, learning how to give support when you're not there to give support in person, I think is part of the evolving skillset of contemporary, you know, pandemic and post-pandemic leadership. I think you see people wrestling with that and I think you see some people going down a darker path and some people moving towards the light.
JP: No, I fully agree with you, Michael. I think it would be really fascinating to see the way those organisation behaviours evolve as people and teams try to combine remote meetings like we do right now, like a Teams calls and, you know, and etc, video conferencing and physical meetings. So any maybe follow up advice from your side on what are the unique pieces of that human connection that I think we all see that that is missing today, as we do only remote meetings? And where would you be the most value had for people to think about the time they going to share in presence versus remote?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Yeah, you know, JP, I’m always a little cautious about offering up generic advice because the truth is every culture is different and actually within a culture, the teams are different as well. I think the starting point is to go, Well, gosh, it's such a good question. The first thing that occurs to me is a quote from Winston Churchill, and I'll get this slightly wrong.
But he said something like we shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us. And the power in that quote for me is when you build your systems and your structures, afterwards they then shape your behaviour. So often our systems and our structures remain a bit invisible to us, particularly if we've been doing them for a while. So an ability to step back and go, What are our buildings even if they're virtual? What are the systems and the structures that we have created? And you know, and how do they now shape how we connect and how we focus and how we do the work? I then am a great fan of going within our little ecosystem, and that can be as a team or it can be as a unit, a business unit of some sort, almost asking the question around what do we know to be true about us in terms of here's the challenge for us. We want to stay connected and we can't be connected in person. What do we know about what works for us? You know, this comes from this idea about change, JP, comes from an experience called positive deviance. Have you ever heard of positive deviance before? You're going to love this, because of your commitment to positive leadership. So positive deviance has its roots in the nonprofit world, actually trying to solve childhood malnutrition in an Asian country. And the founder, a guy called Jerry Sternin, there was some conflict between the U.S. He was running a U.S. nonprofit and the country basically went, You've got six months to solve malnutrition or you're out. And, of course, was like, we've been here 30 years and we've made barely a dent. How am I going to solve this in six months? But what he did was he went around the villages and he weighed all the babies. And he found something extraordinary. He found that in every village, there were one or two babies that were not malnourished, even though those parents had access to exactly the same resources as all the other parents. Somehow, their kids were thriving whilst the majority of kids were undernourished. It's like, What are you doing? And he would find that in different villages it was different, but they would be doing things that were deviant in a positive way, different from the norm. The dads would be involved in in the feeding a bit more. They would feed their kids five small meals rather than three bigger meals. They would harvest a certain type of vegetable that other people didn't think was edible. And what Jerry Sternin and his team did was, he said, rather than us coming in as the outsiders and telling you what to do, why don't we have you explain to your own village what you do? And what's brilliant about this is it overcomes homeostasis. Homeostasis is when a system pushes back on well-meaning advice and interventions. So, you know, somebody like me as a consultant comes in and goes, I think you should do this, and the whole of Microsoft goes, I don't think we should do that at all, even though we'll pretend we do. So part of… So I would be thinking, because the question you posed is the right one, or a really good one, which is, how do we flourish in a time like this? And then I'd be going for us, what do we already know about what it takes for us to flourish? What does it look like? What does great look like? What would disappointing look like and how do we rebuild our building so that it works for us?
JP: I love it, actually. What is called the positive deviance, he did a wonderful job, you know, developing the story and the outcomes. It really, in my mind, is very connected to, you know, what is called the theory of change, as you know, for socialisation overall, which is where socialisation is trying to capture those positive deviance moments. And then really instrument the change, you know, the change process to truly create the so-called habits, routines, to get people to start adapting actually some wisdom already coming from them, but not necessarily well captured and well, I would say, operating in a broader way in the community, wherever it is, could be malnutrition could be health could be, you know, there's so many issues, but I love the story, Michael.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: And then you have the interesting conversation, which is like, Ok and so how much do we make this across the whole of the enterprise and how much do we make it local? Like are there some things you do across, for instance, Microsoft, where you're like, this is a standard operating procedure that we want to have here at Microsoft? And then how much do you say to Microsoft Japan, how will you do it or how will that be different from Microsoft Australia? And how will that be different from Microsoft South Africa? You know, and each of those different country regions or geographic regions may have a different way of implementing that, but they're taking on the same challenge, which is, what's the combination between global and local that allows us to flourish?
JP: Well, you're opening a whole new podcast. I could go after Michael, which I love after traveling the world for 37 years plus and really trying to nurture this balancing act all the time with global and local. I love the opportunity in the future. Michael, coming back to you, if you don't mind. What have you been learning yourself through the pandemic? The way you've been reflecting on your life, your work. You're in Canada now, as you said. You’ve been lock down for months and months in Australia and Canada. Hopefully you are getting a bit more free. I’m not sure, not yet? Can you share any of your insights learnings of that time for you and what it means now?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: The biggest thing for me, JP, was, you know, in the last 12 months or so, half that time was spent back in Australia because my dad was ill and then he died and I had the, you know, it really is a privilege. It is a lack of circumstance and the type of job I have that I was able to go and spend time in Australia with my mum and my dad in the last four or five months of his life. And that's just, you know, a profound experience to to be with somebody. And my dad is a big role model for me. He is a man of great integrity, great service. He was on more committees. I hate committee meetings, but my dad loved it and he was just so good at being of service to causes that he believed in. And so, you know, this is mundane really as an insight, JP, but powerful for me in terms of what I've learned, which is just how…. What it means to just spend time in a non driven way with people that you love. And here's the thing with my dad, we knew that he was dying and so I was there to, you know, just be with him and my mum, but also to help them manage that transition. And I had a great, you know, I was writing this new book at the time. And the last chapter of the book is, you know, a couple of pages, which is a celebration of my dad. It's a way of wrapping up the book, but it's a way of talking about his role for me. And I was able to show my dad those pages, he and mum, and read it while I was there, and we all cried a bit. And you know, I got to tell my dad just how important he was to me and the role that he'd played and why I loved him, and why, you know, why I thought he was a great man. And I, you know, I just got lucky. I was writing a book that was forcing me to put my words into words. I was there with my dad when he did that. So I'm really like going, just tell people, you love them again. It's like, Oh yeah, people keep saying that, and I've read it a thousand times, but now I kind of understand it in a new way.
JP: Well, thank thank you so much for sharing that very, very personal, intimate story, Michael. And and I'm sure your dad, wherever he is now, is looking at you with so much pride. And and yes, no, it's wonderful. Wonderful to hear the way he's been inspiring you.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: It’s like a combination of pride and confusion because my mum and dad always looked at me like, we have no idea who you are. You're awesome, but you're a bit of an alien child to us because you're a bit different. So it's a nice mix.
JP: No, it's really wonderful. Talking about these very particular time you had, you know, with your family back in Australia, Michael, you also, I think, use some of that time, obviously, and not just that time, but many months before that to write this new book, How to Begin. And so thanks, first of all, to share an early copy with me and I was really excited to see finally something practical in the noblest way, right? I'm talking about practical in a very positive way to help people, organisations, teams, whoever you are, to think about the way you can find your purpose worthy goals as you call them and start working towards impact. Meaningful impact in your life, where you decide to spend your time and where you want to have an impact. So I think in this book, you are basically helping people to start a project. But more than that, it's about starting something that really matters to them, as you said. And by the way, this is what this podcast is all about and finding your purpose, leading your purpose, coaching, leading others so that they can have impact that really matters in our lives. And you talk about three stages. Set a worthy goal. Commit and cross the threshold. So we are all about worthy goals, Michael, in the Positive Leadership Podcast Indeed. But we saw how positive leaders can actually make a difference in their world. It can be big or small. But where do people start? That's always the biggest question. Where do they start? And I think your book is a great place to explore that. So can you explain to the listeners what you think is the definition of a worthy goal? Because I think all of us could have a very different way of looking at that. And how should they go about that to finding their own personal own wealthy goal?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Yeah, thank you for asking that question. I mean, goal setting is not new to anybody. We've been all talking about goal setting for for, you know, if you're working in an organisation, your entire organisational life is like, what's the smart goal? Make a smart goal around this. It’s specific and measurable and actionable and something and something. And what I noticed, you know, you’ll have known from my conversations so far with JP, which is like, I really want people to thrive, be the best version of themselves. And I think at their best, organisations bring out the very best of people. But I also think at their most typical, organisations can slightly diminish people because they're like, we've got to have corporate goals and we're just trying to get you to contribute to those bigger corporate goals. And you can sometimes feel like a bit of a small cog in a big machine. So how do you invite people to hold and reclaim their humanity whilst they also work in an organisation, big or small, or even their own business? So I just remember coming across the phrase, I mean, I wrote it, but it was one of those moments as a writer, you're like, Oh, I wrote that. That's good. We unlock our greatness by taking on the hard things. And I want… I'd love people to have the courage to take on the bigger things, the harder things, the worthy things, both because it serves the world and it unlocks their own individual greatness. So for a worthy goal, I think there are three key attributes, three key principles. Thrilling and important and daunting. So thrilling is all about this lights me up. This is what I care about. This is meaningful for me. This kind of speaks to my values. It gets my heart beating a little faster. I'm like, I'd love to be associated with that. And part of the power of thrilling, JP, is it is a counteraction to the sense of obligation because sometimes we get to a certain point in our life or career and we're like, I should be doing this by now. I should be doing that. When I had a conversation with a friend of mine, a coach, and she's brilliant, she's the best coach I know, and she's like, Yeah, but I haven't written a book, and she's been talking about this book for 20 years, and we went through this worthy goal thing. And she's like, I don't want to write a book. It's not thrilling for me. I'm like, How freeing is that? You get rid of the obligation to go, Oh, I should have this thing ticked off this checkmark. So that's thrilling. Important. You know, I know this will be really resonant for you because I know how committed you are to your work in this bigger way. There's a writer and businesswoman, Jacqueline Novogratz. She runs an organisation called Acumen, which is effectively a non-profit venture capitalist firm. They invest in social enterprises. And her book from a year or two ago is called A Manifesto for a Moral Revolution. And in that book and in, she has a TEDx talk that goes with that, she says, What if we can give more to the world than we take? I love that. I love that. And I think important. Basically asks the question of what's the bigger game that this contributes to, for the sake of what are you doing this work? And it's a counteraction to sometimes our stuff, our goals can get a bit selfish. You know, it's all about me and mine and what I want and what I need and what makes my life better. And I'm like, I want it to be more than that. So, you know, just as you started your organisation to allow entrepreneurship to flourish, it's that contribution to the bigger world. You know, that's a very kind of important goal that it serves. There's a clear I'm doing this for the sake of making entrepreneurship more available and accessible to people who might not otherwise get it. And then daunting is about the edge of growth. It's like you going, Look, I don't know, you know, this is a bit scary. I don't know how to really get going on this. It takes you to the edge of your own level of confidence and competence and sense of self and sense of expertise. I was talking to Liz Wiseman the other day. Now you may know Liz's work. She wrote a book called Multipliers, which was very successful. She has a new book coming out, I think next week actually, called Impact Players, which is like, who are the people whose impact is outsized compared to other people like them? And what do they do? And she and I were talking about this, and she said so daunting is like, you know, how to start the project, but you don't know how to finish it. And I think that's a really great definition. It's like, Oh yes, I can take the first… I see the first two steps, but then it all gets a bit misty and a bit confusing, and you're like, Ok, and if you have… I think you need all three of these, but if you have thrilling and important and daunting, you have the makings of a worthy goal. And then there's a question of going, Ok, so if I understand that, where do I find my worthy goal? For some people it becomes… It's already there that she's been waiting for permission to have it, you know? In honour of your son, you may have gone, I've always wanted to start this nonprofit and you're like, Great, I'm away. Other people are like, you know, I want this, but I'm not quite sure where to look. And I think the places to look are, well, you know, work and not work. Just divide the world into two contacts there. Then make a decision around is it intimate or is it broad? Is it intimate or is it broad in terms of the scale that you want to have? Because you could go look, one worthy goal is something about my family. I want to make something amazing. I want to be a better son or a better parent or a better who knows. Or it could be something broader. It's just like, Look, I'm trying to revolutionise Microsoft Asia, and it's a whole different scale and a whole different focus. And then JP, I think the final doorway to kind of have a think about where your worthy goal might be, might be. Is it more about a project? Is it more about people or is it more about patternss? Project is kind of doing stuff, know people. It's about relationships. You know, am I working on how I am with other people? And patterns is about yourself. Who am I and how am I trying to grow and evolve myself? You know, in this new book, How to Begin, I give examples of my own worthy goals as they unfold, and one of them is stepping away from being the CEO of Box of Crayons, the training company that I created. And honestly, that is about patterns. It's about me giving up control and disentangling myself from something I've spent 20 years building and has my DNA all over it and trusting Shannon, the CEO, to redo the values and redo the vision and not get too caught up by it. So is this kind of combination of people, my relationship with Shannon and patterns, who am I, that kind of drove that particular worthy goal.
JP: No. Wonderful, Michael. Wonderful to hear your your deep, deep, deep insights into again, the practical steps to make it your wealthy goals one at a time. And by the way, how are you doing with this transition with Shannon? I don’t want to open a big question, but it’s so much of your baby, Box of Crayons, so you have to you have to let it go and grow by himself.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, you know, we worked really hard at it because founder transitions are a nightmare. Founders, they're weird primadonna, overly precious kind of people, and I'm one of them. So we did two things that were really smart. The first is we hired a transition coach for two years. She worked with us for the year leading up to Shannon formally taking on the role and the year following it. And really her job was to make sure that I didn't screw it up. And there's a little bit kind of the danger of Shannon and I colluding and screwing it up, but really, it's like managing me. The other thing that we did that was really powerful was we took a leaf out of the work of Susan Scott. Now, Susan wrote Fierce. She's also based in Seattle, so she's probably a friend of Microsoft. And from one of her books, she talked about a decision tree, and literally she uses the metaphor of a tree. She says there are four types of decisions twig, branch, trunk and root. Twig branches. Twig decisions are decisions I'll never hear about or never know about. You know, it's like just when you say. Branch decisions are decisions I might one day hear about, you know, as an update from Shannon or a company newsletter or whatever it might be, I’m like, Oh, that's interesting. Trunk decisions, decisions for Shannon to make. But she and I have a conversation about them beforehand, so she seeks my important guidance and opinion, but it's her call. And then root decisions are decisions that I, as the owner, get to make. And through our work in trying to figure this out, we decided that I only have two root decisions to make it. Do I fire Shannon or not? I mean, is she doing a good enough job? And do I sell the company? Those are my only two decisions that I am empowered to make. Everything else is Shannon's. So that is powerful and liberating for her and liberating for me. And it just, you know, Shannon and I, when we when we talk we will have conversations, which is like, I think this feels like a branch decision. I think this is a trunk decision. And we we just understand that hierarchy. And then the other thing that we did, the third thing, was we set a rhythm of meeting that meant that I would know less rather than more. When we first set up, I was so worried about not having her back. I was like every day because I want to just check in and said, I want you to know that I'm I'm going for you and I'm with you. And you know, after a week of that, she's like, Please, let's not meet every day. Okay every week. And what we do now is actually a meeting with her later on. Today, we meet once a month for a check in. And then we have a a formal board meeting quarterly where she checks in and she gives us an update on the business and talks about investments and progress and the like going forward. And those structures, there's three different structures. A coach, the tree metaphor and a rhythm of meeting has been what's allowed me not to get in her way. Oh, you know, one other thing sorry, JP. Here’s the existential question I had to get used to. I had to accept that under her guidance, Box of Crayons might fail. It just might not succeed as a company. You know, she might take the best strategic decision she can and for any number of reasons, the business could just go bust. And I had to get to a point where I'm like, that's what it means letting her be CEO is actually that she’s able to fail completely. And that was also a liberating thing for her and for me.
JP: That’s huge. I mean, just this five minutes coaching moment you had for all the founders of the world. We have many actually particularly social entrepreneurs, I can tell you not only. That's wonderful. You should probably just do a podcast just for that, just for those founders.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Yeah, that's a good idea, actually. But founders, like it's so brave to be a founder. It's so hard to succeed. But then you get so entangled in the thing that you've started. It’s like, how do you get out of the way so it can flourish and scale without you?
JP: No, it's wonderful. Michael, talking about a worthy goal when it comes to large enterprise organisation, can you show an example of the way you've been working yourself, helping not necessarily the founders, but executive teams and others, to pick and implement really in a thoughtful way, their worthy goals?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: You know, I think the thing that most teams struggle with is not finding the worthy goal, because people get pretty excited about talking about thrilling and important and daunting. You know, that kind of is an enlivening conversation. Where it gets gritty and trickier for people is when they decide how many of these worthy goals they can take on. Because, you know, one definition of strategy is saying no to the stuff you want to say yes to. And the temptation, you know this far better than I do because you've you've been in these conversations for for many years, which is like. But could we also just do this? And what if we just add this on as well? And you know, this is so important it feels like we can't say no to that, right? And you know, my bet is that you've seen this many times, which is the bolder you can be and the more courageous you can be around the worthy goal that you choose to take on, the commitment that you make, you just give it a better chance to flourish because broadly speaking, because of our own fear, it's like a combination of fear and excitement. Excitement because you're lit up by all the things that are there. Fear, because you're like, What if none of them work? I need a safety net. But having the courage to go, what are we committing to and what are we saying no to? And what are we saying no to? I think you can become a brilliant leader and really be regarded as a strategic wunderkind. If all you say in meetings is, yeah, but what are we going to say no to so that we can really commit to this? And if that's all you ask everyone’s like, he's so, she's so good at that. She's so good at helping us keep our focus. Because you lose focus and you move into a diluted strategy and overwhelm teams and underinvest in the worthy goals.
JP: No, it's so true. And I found it so hard for so many many years of my life, Michael, saying no, because I was the one generating more possible options. And this and this and this, even using, you know, this tyranny of or, of course, to push people to add with an and. And I know how hard it is actually to truly pick the few things that matter, the more. So I love the fact you are insisting so much on that. Michael, you know, in your book, you also talk about, of course, the curse of keeping the status quo. And I think it's very relevant given the times we are living in as a society, as people across the world. And I love the sentence you used, actually, which is we unlock greatness by working on hard things. There are many hard things I believe we are facing in the world today, Michael, you know, as well. Climate change, inequality, human rights, social inclusion and many, many, many more. And as you know, I'm passionate about the mission led social enterprise world and the amazing community of change makers I got to meet around the world. So really, do you think that your suggested approach of that worthy goal, that really important daunting goal, and the approach you are suggesting is something that can be applied to help solve some of the world's greatest challenges? In other words, can each one of us, not just they, right, the United Nations and yeah, and the government or, you know, the big organisations, unknown entities, clearly for most people. Do you think that each one of us can not only shape a worthy goal, but commit to be a force for positive change?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, I hope so. I mean, it feels like a rhetorical question, JP, because the work that I feel like I'm doing now, if you know, if you had to, you know, Box of Crayons, the training company that I started, we’re about helping organisations move from advice driven to curiosity led and being more coach like in the MBS.work, which is this new little enterprise I've started up. It's like, how do I help people be a force for change? Because, you know, there's so much that is miraculous and amazing about what our world is at the moment, and it's also hard to not look at some of the stuff that's going wrong and get pretty anxious about it. All the things that you listed. And it is diminishing to go, while I hope they figure it out, whoever they are and I do think that giving people the sense that they can take on a worthy goal that might be thrilling for them, important gives more to the world than it takes and daunting, helps them grow as a person. You know, whether that's working something in your local community, whether it's going, Look, I'm just trying to help my business unit create an offering that feels like it's a better offering. Whether you're Greta Thunberg going, I'm trying to make environmental causes something that politicians actually act on. You know, I think these worthy goals happening in different areas, at different scales, just it's like that kind of investment and a venture capitalists. Not all of them are going to work. But we're trying to get people to place bets and we're trying to see what happens. And you hope that a flywheel start, which is a bunch of people going, other people are doing worthy goals, what’s my worthy goal? How do I take that on?
JP: Yeah, no. That makes tons of sense to me, Michael, and I think that's so important for each one of us to to find again that unique, worthy goal we have in ourselves. Last couple of questions to make sure we we keep our listeners listening actively and being even more curious while they cannot ask questions to both of us, Michael. You know, as I learn more about every day about positive leadership, you know, by hosting real guests like yourself, I'm always fascinated by the way they talk about reinventing their own best version of themselves, right? Be the best version of yourself. Clearly, I mean, the work I'm trying to do on positive leadership, I'm thinking about the three circles. And the first one is actually myself, and it's about self-awareness. It's about also self-confidence, self-esteem. And then it's about generating your own energy. It could be physical energy, emotional psychological energy, so that you can really bring the very best of your strengths, your passion and your talents all in it with the people you want to have a positive impact with in your lives. Can you share the way you, Michael, practically activate your best self?
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Well, there's a few ways I try and do it on a kind of micro and a macro level. So on a micro level, I check in on a daily basis and I ask, I did this morning, I got a little hand, a journal where I write these answers. I ask, Answer three questions. Number one, what am I letting go of? It just allows me to look at the stuff that I'm carrying around, expectations of myself, expectations of others, a sense of sadness or frustration or stuff that diminishes that energy that you're talking about. The second thing is I ask, What am I grateful for? And there’s just so much research that says a gratitude practice makes you enjoy life more, so I’m like, I'll do that then. And then I experimented with this third question. I've asked, What am I going to focus on? I've asked what demands my attention? But the question I ask at the moment is what's calling me? And it allows me just to, rather than just kind of get sucked into my to do list, which is relentless and endless and a bit tedious, it asked me what feels like the thing that is a contribution and something that will nourish me today? So I've got that. Then I've got on my desk as well. So I handwrite those and I literally just put LGO. Or let go of. So I've got the shorthand and I write a word or a three word sentence. It doesn't take long. Then I've got a quote from a poem by Roka, the German poet. It's translated into English, and the the name of the poem in translation is The Man Watching. And I'll get the quote slightly wrong, which is ridiculous because I read it every day. But he kind of says halfway through the poem, he says, Look. He references the Bible and Jacob wrestling with the Angel. And he says, look, the angel doesn't wrestle with everybody. The angel only wrestles with people who are doing the stuff that matters. And you always lose to the angel. But it is an honour to have the angel wrestle with you. Then the last lines of the poem are, His goal is not to win, but to be deeply defeated by ever greater things. And that, for me, is very inspiring, to be deeply defeated by ever greater things. It says, Look, you know, I'm in my 50s now, I've had some success. I can keep playing games where I can win. They're easy enough for me to find, but how do I have the courage to be deeply defeated by ever greater things? And then the way that manifests is me going, What's my worthy goal and how do I work on my worthy goal? And I take, you know, it's not always clear what my worthy goal is, but I take my best guess and I go, Let me work on that and see if I can unlock some of my greatness by working on the hard things.
JP: What a fantastic way to kind of close our discussion, Michael, and open up many others with our listeners. Each one of us, as I'm opening this journal that you have with yourself, which is fantastic and so much inspirational for all of us, but also so much practical. You know, you made a reference to your dad, Michael. I want to end with that saying. At the end of the book, you share this very touching reference to him as a role model for you and what he's been busy helping you to achieve later on and right now in your life and shaping your own worthy goals inspired by your dad, I guess, in particular. And I'm really, really, really delighted to see the work you are undertaking, Michael, and the way you are inspiring many other people, including myself, to achieve the best version of themselves because I think that's the way we're going to get that positive impact throughout our community. So, Michael, thank you so much for sharing that moment, and I'm going to share with you, which I do with every guest, my three takeaways. Oh, it's super hard, by the way, what you have to say no to. I've taken a lot of notes and just picking three things, right, together. First of all, is really about to enable greatness around me, I need de-centre myself. I love that, because I think that's so much true in terms of positioning yourself in a fundamentally different way. Number two, moving away and I'm going to have a lot of critics for that, to the smart goals to the worthy goals, meaning TID goals, thrilling, important and daunting. TID. That's the new mantra for real goals, worthy goals. And three, I love finishing with some poetry that you talked about. Wrestle with your angel because I think this is the way you're going to find the calling in yourself. So that's my takeaways, Michael, I hope they make sense for you somehow.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: I love that we've had a conversation that touches on those three things. So thank you for summarising them so beautifully.
JP: Thank you so much, Michael. And again, we'll stay in touch together, whether it is in Canada, Australia, maybe France, taking a taking a cup of wine one day,
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: I'm desperate to come to have a glass of wine with you in Paris, so I'm going to take you up on that for sure.
JP: Thanks so much and all the best for you in all of your new worthy goals and accomplishments, Michael. Take care.
MICHAEL BUNGAY STANIER: Thanks, JP.
JP: Thank you.