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Episode 7

Doing Great Work

October 16, 2017
60 minutes

Michael Bungay Stanier is obsessed with one particular distinction: the difference between good work and great work. Why do so many of us spend most of our time doing work that’s just okay when we could be doing work that is profound – work that “makes a dent in the universe”?

Using neuroscience, personal stories and his trademark sense of humour, Michael teaches us how to do more great work, so that we can have more impact, express more of our genius and most importantly, have more fun.

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What is great work?

There are three types of work; bad work, good work and great work. Great work is work that has impact and meaning – work that lights you up, speaks to your values, brings forth the best version of you and that makes a dent in the universe.

We’re all fighting a battle against bad work but what we often don’t realise is that we’ also being sabotaged by good work (for example, busywork). It’s easy to spend a lot of time doing good work but it tends to leave you feeling like something’s missing, a vague dissatisfaction that there’s something else you ought to be doing.

As we work on becoming more aware of how much time we’re investing in good work and how much in great work, a useful question we can ask is, What’s the best mix between good work and great work for me right now, and take action accordingly.

Great work has a particular quality that makes it easily identifiable. It’s defined by the following characteristics:

  • A sense of taking a risk
  • It rarely drops into our laps but when it does it’s usually through one of the three D’S; Disaster (something that causes you to grow), Delegation (someone else manages to assign it to you) or Discovery (self-discovery)
  • Feels impactful and lights you up
  • Accompanied by a combination of excitement and terror
  • Requires focus, courage and resilience
How do we do great work?

So how do we go from being good coaches to being great coaches? Michael notes that there is a simplicity on the other side of complexity; a more refined simplicity built on a foundation of knowledge and practice (when we no longer need to rely on our training methodologies).

We move from conscious incompetence when we begin, to conscious competence, and from there to unconscious competence – the point at which we can operate without needing to engage the thinking mind.

Coaching mastery therefore, is about bringing a different level of presence with your clients, and calling their potential forth in a more powerful way. It is developing the ability to reach your clients at a deeper level of what they are – which requires the ability to do that for yourself.

So ask yourself; What is the great work you’re here to do?

Beginning great work is vastly aided by structuring it as a project with a start and end date, making it seem more feasible and a less imposing commitment. Interestingly, great work tends to become good work, at which point we have to listen to the call to shift something and find our way back to great work.

Engaging for impact

Speaking gigs and content writing are often part of a coaches’ job description – so how do we increase our ability to reach and impact people when we’re addressing more than one person?

The neuroscience of engagement explores how we relate to each other. We now know that the brain is constantly checking if you’re safe by scanning your environment. When engaging with clients it’s helpful to remember this biological wiring in order to increase intimacy and learning in your client.

The TERA model that informs the way Michael engages is a useful map of understanding the metrics the brain uses to judge safety;

  • Tribe: are you with me?
  • Expectation: do I know what’s happening next or not?
  • Rank: are you more or less important than me?
  • Autonomy: do I have choice or are things being decided for me?

When you raise the TERA quotient of people you have happier people who are more engaged and more open to learning. Eye contact, humour (especially the self-deprecating variety) and some structure go a long way to increasing perceived safety and hence openness.

Final thoughts

Michael’s parting insights that he himself lives by:

  • Keep coming back to your value system and checking in (how are you doing with each right now) and use them as a catalyst for change
  • What’s the next important thing (death is inevitable so make time count)
  • Budget for one great project every 5 years
  • Say conscious No’s to be able to say Yes to those things that really light you up

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier is at the forefront of shaping how organizations around the world make being coach-like an essential leadership competency. He is a coach and speaker, and the author of six books, which between them have sold more than a million copies. He’s best known for The Coaching Habit, the best-selling coaching book of the century and already recognized as a classic. Michael is the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led.


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