Leadership Coaching: Working with leaders to develop elite performance

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Written by Christine Thornton on 1 July 2010 in Review

A book entitled Leadership Coaching begs at least two questions of definition.

Ed. Jonathan Passmore

Kogan Page

ISBN 978-0-7494-5532-3

Paperback £24.95

In his foreword, Timothy Gallwey succinctly disposes of 'what is coaching': it is "fundamentally about facilitating learning and unlearning in the coachee".

Leadership, by contrast, remains undefined by most of the authors, though repeatedly broken down through the categories of skill, competency or activity in the various models they describe.

The book offers a smorgasbord of coaching models for the reader to taste. It is one to dip into, following your fancy, rather than to read cover to cover.

Editor Jonathan Passmore asked contributors to describe a particular model, review the research and explore its uses in a coaching relationship, including one detailed case study. The contributors have, more or less, followed this sensible outline. Sometimes the models are interesting, sometimes the authors' comments or practical advice are more so. The case studies are illuminating and particularly helpful where the writing in the chapter as a whole falls below the generally good standard. The limitations of a model-based approach are acknowledged by Gallwey and by Passmore.

The chapters are short, about right for a train journey home, making the book accessible to the time-poor executive or coach.

The emphasis on research and an evidence base is important in a young profession like coaching, and the material relied upon by the contributors demonstrates the clear link with other, earlier, forms of organisational intervention. In one or two places these links become a little strained, as authors labour to legitimise their offering through reference to material that supports their premises rather than their practice.

Is the book of value to the experienced coach and neophyte alike? Well, as an executive coach of 20 years' standing, I found material here that made me think. The book would also offer a solid introduction for less experienced practitioners.

Could the book have been improved? In two ways. The first omission is having only one contribution (Lee and Roberts) directly concerned with unconscious dynamics. Coaching must tackle barriers to development as well as its drivers if it is to offer a good return on investment, and analytic theory and research has much to offer in this area.

The second omission is how little there is about coaching leaders in groups, though Tulpa and Woudstra's paper is an unpretentious and engaging exception in the team arena, offering simply-expressed practical advice. Otherwise the focus is exclusively on one-to-one coaching.

Overall, this book offers a worthwhile and readable introduction to one-to-one coaching models and good value to the reader.


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