Angus McLeod's new book - Performance Coaching - is subtitled “The Handbook for Managers, HR Professionals and Coaches” and sets itself the purpose of providing these three audiences with information and guidance on coaching that is relevant to their diverse needs and perspectives. To do so, the author draws widely on both his own “casebook” of coaching interventions in business and also his familiarity with a range of change techniques linked by a common ethos: that the power for change lies with the coachee and that the coach's role is to elicit - rather than to own or direct - the coachee's resources and decisions around that change.
This simple message permeates the text of this book and the reader is left in no doubt about the author's passion for coaching as a principled instrument for change - and equally about his desire to distinguish coaching from problem-solving approaches such as mentoring, consulting, and from the various forms of counseling and therapy, whilst acknowledging some common threads and techniques. This book does the coaching profession a great service by emphasising these points, both explicitly and also through numerous examples and case studies.
Indeed, Part I of the book takes us through these distinctions and lays out clearly what characterises coaching, including what the author lists as the “Principal Instruments of the Coach” - silence, questions, and challenge.
The core of the book is in Parts 2 and 3, where the reader is taken first through a number of examples of coachees' issues that typically come up in performance coaching, such as influencing, inner conflicts, “stuckness” and work-life balance . With each such issue, the author takes us through one or more actual scenarios with relevant extracts from the coaching interactions that took place. Coaching concepts and techniques used in each example are straightforwardly introduced and explained, along with some real nuggets of gold in the form of Linguistic Tips which powerfully illustrate how particular forms of words (as questions, observations, requests, etc) can be used by the coach to trigger change.
At various points, this reviewer would have welcomed a little more explanation or detail on some of the approaches and techniques (or a mention of alternative ways to approach the particular issue) but that is from a position of limited experience in the field; however, others may find there is more than enough detail to keep them happy, and there are numerous references to follow up if required.
This same structure of topic, example, etc is continued in Part 3. The distinction between Parts 2 and 3 was not very clear to this reviewer, as the coachees' issues seem to act as clearer reference points than the underlying themes. Part 2 claims to focus on New Skills (for coachees) and Part 3 on Drivers for Change, but the examples in both sections typically bring out the drivers, the issues, and the skills and insights required to resolve them, as well as effective approaches and techniques the coach can use to enable the desired change.
Part 4 looks at the practice and management of coaching and its application in organisations, and will provide coaches, HR managers and other executives with much practical guidance on using coaching effectively and ethically in the organisational context. Part 5 is a deliberately selective review of some approaches and models that can be used to underpin coaching interactions, including Clean Language, Symbolic Modeling, Provocative Therapy and Shelle Rose Charvet's use of conversational patterns. (NB A number of elements from the NLP canon, such as Dilts' Logical levels and Time Lines, are pragmatically and appropriately introduced at various points in the book - but always in the service of the coaching relationship, not as its master).
This is followed by sections on:
- ways for coaches to develop their professional skills and competence
- other relevant skills, techniques and approaches not covered within the scenarios in Parts 2 and 3
- a section on the pitfalls of coaching, some of which will be familiar to practitioners in other fields like counseling and therapy (eg projection and transference)
- a brief piece on the author's experience of mentoring (including an e-mentoring service), and a useful and informative set of appendices, indexes and a glossary
So, does the book live up to its first sub-title of “The Handbook for Managers, HR Professionals and Coaches”? If readers pick this up in search of an encyclopaedic tome covering everything to do with coaching, or a step-by-step manual on “the” coaching process, they are likely to be disappointed. The author's approach of illuminating effective coaching through actual examples is derived, appropriately, from a broad sweep of coachee's issues rather than from some taxonomy of coaching methods and the more information-packed sections are wisely and usefully selective. That selectivity and the choice of topics within a section sometimes appears more idiosyncratic than logical or systematic, but is in keeping with the style of the book as a whole. In fact, Performance Coaching comes across as the author's personal but very inclusive take on coaching, backed by considerable knowledge and experience, rather than an attempt to “cover the field”.
By contrast, if readers - be they managers, HR professional, coaches or others - are happy to dip into a treasure trove of practical experiences, ideas and explanations, they will find much to inspire, to inform and to guide them. This is more a resource book than a manual, but no less welcome and useful for that. The author himself describes it as a book “designed to be picked up and read from any page” (rather than an end-to-end read), and this is probably the best way to use the material available - look for specific points of interest or browse until something of interest meets the eye.
One other aspect of this book stands out. It honours another cornerstone of good coaching practice by offering its rich content in a spirit of humility and respect for the reader, in effect saying “this is what I find useful and effective; it may be of interest and use to you also”, but without the shoulds, oughts and musts that typify “expert guidance” in handbooks in many fields. Understanding this mindset on the part of the author - one of a generous sharing of experience, information and good practice - is the key to getting the best out of this book. If the reader looks for a blueprint or an agenda to follow, he or she will not find it (except for a broad steer on what is true to the spirit of coaching).
The author has, in that context, achieved the near-impossible - writing a book that demonstrates the potential of coaching as an effective and ethical instrument for change and gives a flavour of its depth, richness and subtlety, but is nevertheless accessible, comprehensible and usable for pro and novice alike. This title deserves to sit - hopefully well-thumbed - alongside the very limited number of internationally respected books on coaching.
As for the book's second sub-title - “The Only Book on Coaching You Will Ever Need””“"well, readers will have to decide that for themselves.