Co-Active Coaching, Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011 (3rd edition–link is to 4th edition published in 2018).
Summary: A model of coaching in which coach and client actively collaborate to accomplish the clients needs, and the cornerstones, contexts, and core principles to realize those outcomes.
There are a variety of models for coaching and versatile coaches draw upon different models to meet the needs of their clients. In reading this book, what I found, which is described as a model, really seems to be a description of the ethos of coaching, the framework of practice within which a coach teams with his or her clients to accomplish the client’s goals. That’s not surprising since the authors (one now deceased) have been involved in coaching work since the 1980’s. This work was first published in the late 1990’s and is now in its fourth edition (my review is of the third edition).
The “co-active” refers to the kind of relationship that exists between coach and client, in which each actively collaborates to accomplish the client’s goals. Coaches are fully engaged in attentive listening, drawing upon their own curiosity and intuition. Clients are fully engaged in identifying their goals and aspirations, and doing the work that coach and client identify are necessary to pursue those goals. The authors talk about a “coaching power triangle” consisting of the coach, the client and the coaching relationship. It is the coaching relationship that is powerful, not the coach, and the power each grants to the relationship is directed to the empowering of the client. It strikes me that this is what all good coaching strives for, whether under the “co-active” label or not, but the term highlights the shared agency of both parties.
The model works around four cornerstones, five contexts, and three core principles
The four cornerstones provide the structure for the co-active relationship:
- People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. The assumption here is that clients are capable of discovering and implementing actions toward their goals.
- Focus on the whole person. While there may be a problem to solve or a business goal to attain, the client brings all of who they are, and the most effective coaching relationships address that whole person.
- Dance in this moment. This is to be fully present with the client in the moment, to what is happening in the conversation.
- Evoke transformation, not just “ahh” but “aha”–deeper awareness and expanded capacity to act in the client.
The five contexts are aspects of the coach’s contact or presence with the client:
- Listening: There are three levels of listening. Internal is the coach listening to their own internal dialogue, focused is the coach attentively listening to the client, and global goes beyond what is said, to everything around that, the subtle nuances and the total context of the client. Good listening is at the latter two levels.
- Intuition: This synthesizes attentive listening, subtle cues, and our experience, and often presents as a gut sense or hunch.
- Curiosity: Asking questions, exploring in open, inviting, playful, and companionable fashion that creates the sense of safety to explore even the dark and unknown spaces.
- Forward and deepen: “Forward” refers to moving the client forward in action. “Deepen” emphasizes learning that goes beyond the action to core principles of the client.
- Self-management: Mostly this means the ability of the coach to not make it about them but about the client. It’s not about being right about insights and hunches. It is about the client
The three core principles have to do with the whole life of the client:
- Fulfillment: what the client values and how they define their purpose in life. In co-active coaching, the “wheel of life” exercise is one tool used to help people identify the degree of fulfillment they are experiencing in different areas of life.
- Balance: often clients get stuck being out of balance. Coaching opens up new perspectives, helps clients choose a different perspective, figure out what to say no and yes to, to act out of that new perspective, and commit to that plan.
- Process: It is easy to focus only on results in coaching and lose sight of the process occurring in the coaching relationship, celebrating the person the client is, and is becoming along the way.
A chapter of the book is devoted to each of the five contexts and three core principles with coaching dialogues that illustrate each of these as well as many personal examples from the authors’ coaching practice. Additional resources are offered throughout the book in an online Coaches Toolkit that may be accessed for free and used freely at: http://www.coactive.com/toolkit — a huge resource for coaches.
What I liked in this book is the emphasis on coaches bringing their full selves, including their intuitions and curiosity to the coaching relationship. I also appreciated the idea of clients as creative, resourceful, whole people, who often know far more than the coach about the situation in which they are being coached. I also appreciated the focus on the whole person and not just business problems or goals. The generous resources of the online Coaches Toolkit are another asset.
What I would have liked more help with is how one negotiates the focus on the whole person with the business goals, particularly if it is an organization, and not the individual who has hired you. This book also seems to play down the role of fluency in the types of organizational or business situations one is coaching in (start-up versus large organization, local business versus global, etc.). It focuses on the “soft” versus “hard” skills of coaching, it seems, and I wonder if some caveats here might be helpful.
As I commented above, I think, of the several books I’ve read (I’m by no means an expert in this area), I thought this book did the best job describing the ethos or fundamental nature of coaching. The authors provide a helpful description of the environment of a good coaching relationship, the nature of coaching and what transformation looks like for the client. It left me more excited about the coaching aspects of my own work.