Coaching Understood – A pragmatic inquiry into the coaching process
Coaching is an extraordinarily diverse field. Aside from the technical coaching environment, epitomised by sports coaches and personal trainers, it ranges from individuals who have had less than two days training to those with PhDs. It attracts clients as varied as the stuck-at-home mum and the City high flyer, the lost soul and the passionate social activist and every shade across this vast landscape. So, it’s a very ambitious author who tries to pen a book aimed at both clients and coaches with the express purpose of helping them all understand coaching.
If anyone was qualified to tackle this task it would be Dr Elaine Cox, Director of Coaching Programmes at Oxford Brookes, co-editor of the Complete Handbook of Coaching. Elaine’s skill is in drilling below the surface of the subject to provide an intellectual depth so sadly missing from many other coaching publications.
Chapters 4 to 9, focus on the core skills of many coaches –listening, clarifying, reflecting, becoming critical, questioning, and being present. They are superb. They are not simplistic –they provide a structure that will help any coach who aspires to deepen their understanding of what they do. Written by an academic, they contain good references and plenty of keywords that will provide a coach who wants to go one step further with all they need to start their own researches. What’s more, while Cox’s approach is to interpret previous authors’ contributions, they are not written in quasi-academic, pseudo-scientific, gobbledegook –they are accessible to any intelligent, inquiring, practising coach.
These chapters, though, highlight the difficulty of writing for a diverse audience. I cannot believe that most clients have any interest in this depth. If anything, I suspect that some could feel manipulated if they thought that all this was going on in the mind of their coach as they spoke. Ask yourself, would your clients want to know that you were generatively listening while witnessing their significance? Unless they were students of coaching, I doubt it.
Chapter 10, Integrating Experience, introduces an area missing from much of the coaching literature and training. It’s one thing to provide an opportunity to clients to understand themselves better and, either, to be satisfied with their lives or to achieve more. It’s another for the coach to understand their role, and the dynamics and processes involved, in transforming this experience into effective learning for the future. Cox tackles this in the same informed and reasoned way as the preceding chapters and provides the reflective coach with an excellent primer on this fascinating aspect of their work.
In her introduction, Cox provides an intellectual framework for the process of coaching. It surprises me that some coaches, and many authors, need this spelling out. It seems blindingly obvious that coaching is about learning, involves reflection, is facilitated by the coach, and features an exchange between people. Given the stubbornness of most minds, that this is iterative, is also rather obvious. So, I inwardly cringe when I see an author presenting a simple model of the process. This was certainly my reaction when I first opened Coaching Understood. To be honest, I had to force myself past this obstacle. I am so glad that I did and, if you have the same reaction, I’d urge you to do so too. Delve into the core of the book and then fill in the gaps by reading the introductory three chapters later.
In summary, an exceptional book –written by an established academic, providing tempting insights into the depth of the process of coaching for the practitioner who would like to be far better informed.
(This review appeared first in Coaching Today (October 2013))
Dr Graham Wilson is the Executive Lead for Research for the BACP Coaching Division, a lecturer with TOBES, the Oxfordshire Business and Enterprise School, and works as a confidant to senior executives (www.executive-post.info + www.the-confidant.info.