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The real win wasn’t the trophy

By November 28, 2023No Comments

My Oscar moment

The trophy isn’t the real win (although it’s very nice 😁)

Earlier this month, I won the “Marshall Goldsmith Award for Coaching & Mentoring” at Thinkers50. This event has been dubbed “the Oscars of management”, so in this small part of the world, it’s a big thing. I was surprised at how delighted I was to hear my name read out, and I’m totally stoked to have won.

But as great as it was, it wasn’t the best thing about the night … and that was a surprise to me.

I first noticed Thinkers50 about fifteen years ago. Every two years, they’d publish a list of the top 50 management thinkers, and I remember then thinking to myself: that’s a high-quality list I’d like to be on. I’d like to be associated with the people on that list.

There was no reason for me to even think that was possible.

Yes, I’d started Box of Crayons, and I was making a living as a consultant and trainer; but I wasn’t much known, and I hadn’t yet written any books (or articles, or anything really) that would make anyone consider me a “management thinker”.

But seeing who was on the list helped me orient to a general sense of ambition.

Roger Martin would ask, “what needs to be true for you to be considered as a possibility?” and some of the answers would be: write books that matter; become known by people in the community so I’d be considered a peer; become known to the organizers of Thinkers50; play the long game.

And I did all of that. I reached out to people on the list and did podcasts and events with them. I wrote books that tried to be helpful; I attended my first Thinkers50 event in 2019.

Helpfully – and this is the long game – I stopped worrying so much about getting on the list. The process itself was already the win.

So here are some of my best moments from the Thinkers50 event.

Catching up with Liz Wiseman, and realizing that someone I had always admired had become a real friend.

Being invited to fancy afternoon tea at The Dorchester by Laura Gassner Otting, where we laughed hard and explored big ideas with Liane Davey, Rahaf Harfoush, and Tasha Eurich.

Having Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days (a book I’ve recommended a gazillion times), say he was a fan of my work and recommended it to his students.

Hearing lots of people tell me they knew and used my work, particularly the tools from The Coaching Habit.

Dressing up. Long-time readers might remember a newsletter back in July where I bemoaned the lack of opportunities to get a little glamorous, and keen-eyed readers will notice I’m wearing an AMAZING silk dressing gown over my tuxedo. My wife begged me not to do it (“it’s a dressing gown!” and fair enough, she had a point) … but I wore it nonetheless, and (was this the best best best bit? Maybe) had lots of people tell me they thought it was spectacular. I’m sure I was both first and last on the “best dressed” list, depending on who you asked.

When I look at this (partial) list, I see three themes.

Showing up for the relationships I have as best I can.

Showing up in the work I do as best I can.

Showing up as the best version of myself as best I can.

Trophies are wonderful. But I know with my moments of Resumé Triumph – Rhodes Scholar, best-selling author, this award – that luck and timing are a significant part of it all.

Whether or not you win the trophy, doing your work, and caring for your people, and being the best version of you makes for a life well lived.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.