My Three Best Secrets on Effective Coaching

By Michael Bungay Stanier, Box of Crayons

“Coaching” isn’t a new leadership term. Chances are you’ve already come across it in some form or another. In fact, research done in 2006 by leadership development firm BlessingWhite found that 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training, but only 23 percent of people being coached (fewer than one in four!) thought that the coaching had a positive effect on their job.

It doesn’t always have to be a struggle — there are easy ways for managers to become more coach-like. The essence of coaching lies in helping others, and in unlocking their potential. So if you’re already committed to being helpful and it hasn’t yet led you to coaching more often, read on to learn my best tips for getting there.

Don’t Create a Coaching Culture

Coaching is not a miraculous fix-all that, when implemented into the organizational culture, immediately drives change and improves the workplace in all sorts of ways. It’s a tool that is best put to work to support a specific objective.

If your organizational culture is like every other I’ve ever seen (and it probably is), then it’s one in which people love getting things done. And if you’re like most of the managers I’ve ever worked with, then you genuinely do want to figure things out.

The problem is that when we focus on a coaching culture, we commonly confuse the means for the end. Here is where you need context. Coaching works best when it’s used for a specific purpose within the business — increasing customer retention, for example.

The second context that matters is a personal one. Why should you bother with coaching? Managers need to see why coaching matters, and how it will reduce their workload and prompt more of that “Great Work” in the office. This context allows managers to see coaching as a support and solution, rather than as another thing being added to their plate.

Keep it Short and Sweet

Coaching doesn’t need to (and, in fact, shouldn’t be) a big formal event. Managers are overwhelmed and overcommitted, and they feel like they don’t have time to take on the task of coaching.

For coaching to stick, it needs to fit into a manager’s daily life — and it can’t take up too much time.

Be brief. Unless you can coach in 10 minutes or less, you can’t coach. You don’t need to sit down and have a head-nodding conversation with someone; you do need to have everyday coaching conversations that get to the heart of the matter quickly.

Be Adequate, Not Excellent

Truth is, being an adequate coach is more than enough in most cases. Over-coaching wastes time and money, and it also sets an unnecessarily high standard when it comes to coaching in general. Adequate coaching both works in the moment and is efficient.

Setting the bar at adequacy helps normalize coaching and encourages managers to try it, since they don’t feel like they need to strive for excellency — just adequacy! Managers just need to up their conversation game a little bit to make a big difference.

We’re hard-wired to give advice, but promoting a little more curiosity rather than expertise creates perfectly adequate coaches.
Challenging the broad ideas of what coaching means by following these counter-intuitive truths can help a company invest in practical, adaptable coaching skills that will change the way managers lead for the better.

Box of Crayons helps people and organizations do less good work and more great work. We specialize in helping time-crunched managers coach in 10 minutes or less. We do our best to stay true to our values, which are: Provoke Impact, Have Fun, Pursue Elegance, Be Generous, Stay Curious. Founded in 2002, and headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Box of Crayons works with organizations around the world. We have particular expertise in the financial, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, retail and professional services sectors. Download a one-page overview of our services here. Visit our website at

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