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Coaching For Performance by Sir John Whitmore is in my opinion a must have for any aspiring and practising executive coaches.
Coaching For Performance is fantastically easy to read alongside having great academic resonance. The author, intersperse the theoretical with the real examples from his and others experiences. He freely distributes his own research findings as well as outlining his views on the not just the coaching industry but also his wider views on the world.
It explores the definition of coaching; the foundations of coaching in psychology and how coaching can support individual development and also that of society at large.
Whitmore gives practical advice on coaching, outlining in great depth the GROW (Goals, Reality, Options, Will) framework and giving examples and citing available research throughout his description of the framework. But to describe this book as an explanation of the GROW framework would be to massively undersell it.
In Part One, Whitmore outlines his Principles of Coaching, starting with the sporting origins of coaching, using Tim Gallway’s definition of coaching from The Inner Game Of Tennis as “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance”. He outlines the difference between mentoring and coaching and also explores the role of manager as a coach, as opposed to the dictator or the abdicator. In particular, he highlights the opportunities for managers to help their staff recall more by helping them experience more as it is six times more effective than being told what to do and to learn and develop alongside doing their job. This is the point of intersection between being a coach and being a manager. At the heart of his principles of coaching are raising the awareness and responsibility of the client, to build their own self-confidence and their own ability. He outlines his qualities of a great coach and the use of effective questioning, including the sequence of questioning.
The second part of Principles of Coaching outlines the GROW model in detail, with a chapter each on Goals, Reality, Options and Will. Throughout these four chapters he gives simple everyday examples of how a conversation with a client may look at each stage as well as a range of suitable questions to ask your clients to provoke increased awareness and responsibility.
In Part Two, he outlines The Practice of Coaching, investigating Performance. He makes a strong case for the link between learning and enjoyment, and touches on the link between motivation and self-belief. He outlines his view on coaching to help those looking for meaning and purpose. He shares his passion for feedback and assessment. He outlines how to develop a team and also in how to coach a team. The final two chapters outline how to overcome barriers to coaching and the making the case for coaching by highlighting the benefits of coaching.
In Part Three, he challenges leaders in our organisations and in our society around becoming more in tune with the wider needs of society and that to do that requires constant transparent and high performing leadership, with coaching at the heart of leadership. He sets out the need for coaching in leadership as coaching and leadership are linked because of four reasons – leaders will have to coach their team rather than the old command and control style of leadership, coaching delivers the highest performance from the organisation, that by coaching we help future leaders gain the awareness, responsibility and self-belief to become great leaders, and finally, with the speed of change in a globalised world, the only way to deal with the pace of change is to constantly. He outlines the qualities of leadership including values, vision, authenticity, agility, alignment and purpose.
In the final part of his book, Whitmore sets out his stall as a humanist psychologist, citing Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow as pioneers of this approach. He touches on Emotional Intelligence, but disappointingly cites research from the book, which has it been ridiculed as it’s not intelligence and the research has little predictive value. Notwithstanding these flaws in Emotional Intelligence, he states the case for emotional balance with success at work. In the final chapter in his book, he outlines his views on the future of coaching, with a view that coaching is not a panacea for all of life ills, but that coaching’s value is broadening beyond the sports field and the corporate boardroom.
I would say though, that Coaching For Performance has a couple of drawbacks.
It feels it could be significantly abridged as a great deal of it is repetitive, especially in the detail on the GROW framework (this may be me having widely used the framework for several years).
The second drawback is the author has a view of the coaching world, where anybody can coach anything, which broadly I agree with and he gives an example of a skiing coach giving tennis coaching with the skiing coach exceeding those of the other tennis coaches in a couple of examples. My understanding is that he is attempting to remove any barriers a coach has in which discipline they coach, which is good, but I think it may lead coaches to be slightly delusional about what clients are looking for from a coach. The prospective coaching client is not aware of any coach being able to coach him or her and therefore goes looking for a specific coach. To use the author’s own example, most tennis players will look for a tennis coach rather than a skiing coach.
The fact that these are my only misgivings in this book, serves to highlight just how strongly I recommend this book, especially for those looking for an entry-level book on coaching. This is not a coaching by numbers book or a party political broadcast for coaching but a book to help in your own self-development as a coach, provoking and supporting in its style.