Review: Leadership Coaching

leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite PerformanceJonathan Passmore (ed.). London: Kogan Page, 2015 (second edition, review is of first edition).

Summary: A compendium of articles by experts in the field of leadership coaching describing and assessing different models.

Leadership coaching is becoming increasingly common with senior leadership in organizations and corporations. What one quickly discovers however is that there are a number of models used by coaches in this field. This work is a great introduction to a number of the leading models used in the field.

An introduction to leadership coaching by Jonathan Passmore, editor of this work, focuses on developing a rigorous, evidence-based research basis to coaching, looking at the effectiveness of different models. Following this introduction, fifteen different models are considered:

  • Authentic leadership
  • Integrated leadership model
  • Emotionally intelligent leadership
  • The Leadership Radar
  • Asian perspective on leadership coaching: Sun Tzu and The Art of War
  • Coaching Icarus leadership: helping leaders who can potentially derail
  • Coaching for integral leadership
  • Coaching political leaders
  • Leadership coaching with feedforward
  • Coaching from a systems perspective
  • Coaching for transactional and transformation leadership
  • Coaching for leadership style
  • Strategy coaching
  • Coaching global top teams
  • Coaching using leadership myths and stories: An African perspective

Nearly every chapter includes a case study showing the application of the coaching model in specific leadership situations.

These are some of the valuable resources I gleaned from this survey:

  • Authentic leadership occurs when there is an unforced alignment between personal values and corporate vision.
  • The integrated leadership model recognizes that effective leadership is not a single quality but propose six factors in leadership effectiveness: goal orientation, motivation, engagement, control, recognition and structure. Leaders operate on a continuum between two extremes with each factor.
  • Emotional intelligence is not a single thing but includes understanding and articulating our own emotions, ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others, the ability to manage our emotions, the ability to manage change and solve problems on an intra- and inter-personal basis, and the ability to generate positive mood and be self-motivated.
  • The Leadership Radar involves leading in the dimension of people, task, and thought, similar to a model I’ve worked with of vision, structure, and people.
  • The Icarus chapter identified a number of characteristics of leaders who fail, and most have to do with their personal character, and particularly highlighted leaders with narcissistic personalities, far from uncommon. (The description sounded chillingly similar to the current occupant of the Oval Office.)
  • Feedforward coaching doesn’t ignore past behavior, particularly past failures, but focuses on envisioning how one might improve particular behaviors through careful listening to suggestions from coaches and peers.
  • I found the chapter on coaching from a systems perspective helpful in understanding the relationships within which one leads–those on top, in the middle, on the bottom, and those who are customers. He also helpfully outlines how systems differentiate, homogenize, individuate, and integrate.

I think I might have found more relevance in reading Sun Tzu that the chapter, which seemed an abstraction of principles from this work. The chapter on transactional and transformational leadership helped make the distinction between these two forms of leadership similar, and helped me see how articulating and embodying vision is critical to the latter. The chapters on coaching politicians and coaching global top teams seemed less applicable, though the chapters made the case for the relevance of each. The African perspective was fascinating in terms of its use of myth and story in leadership coaching.

This work serves as a primer and resource for further study on a number of extant leadership coaching models and introduces one to leading researchers and consultants in the field. The second edition adds chapters on conversational leadership, team leadership, strengths-based leadership, and complexity informed leadership.


Review: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

change your questions

Change Your Questions, Change Your LifeMarilee Adams (Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015.

Summary: Builds on the insight that the kinds of questions we ask shape our actions, and focuses on learning to ask “learner” rather than “judger” questions.

Marilee Adams proposes that the kinds of questions we ask of ourselves and of others, whether they be spouses, work colleagues, or coachees, profoundly shape our actions and our lives. She calls this Question Thinking. She proposes that we choose between two types of paths, two types of questions: the Judger path and the Learner path. For example:

  • Judger asks: What’s wrong with me?  Learner asks: What do I value about myself?
  • Judger asks: What’s wrong with him/her? Learner asks: What do I appreciate about him or her?
  • Judger asks: Whose fault is it? Learner asks: Am I being responsible?

Often, when we are in Judger, we feel hopeless, depressed, uptight and we feel ourselves tensing up. In Learner, we relax. Adams uses a tool called the Choice Map to illustrate these paths and the Judger Pit when we are controlled by Judger questions.

We all have a Judger in us, but Adams offers hope in terms of switching questions. This is rooted in learning to become an observer of when we are in Judger, accepting the Judger in us, and learning to ask questions that move us into Learner beginning with “Am I in Judger?”, “Is this what I want to feel or do?”, “Where would I rather be?”, and “How else can I think about this?” (a very helpful question!). Often this leads to questioning our assumptions. Another tool she provides is the ABCD process (Aware, Breathe!, Curiosity, Decide).

When a leader develops a Learner perspective, he or she is positioned to develop a learner team. It begins with changing the questions one asks with a team, but also training them in the Choice Map so they can become aware of when they are in Judger or Learner. A tool that particularly energizes Learner in teams is Q-Storming, that is brainstorming Learner Questions.

Adams presents this material through the story of Ben, a talented manager whose team is failing. Ben is struggling and ready to resign until Alexa his boss refers him to Joseph, who coaches him in Question Thinking and learning to make the switch from Judger to Learner. She introduces different Question Thinking tools through this narrative as Ben experiences a transformation in his marriage and his work as he moves from Judger to Learner.

The book concludes with Twelve Tools for leadership, coaching and life, and exercises the reader can use to implement these tools in their own context.

While I suspect that this approach is not the “magic bullet” for every situation, Adams’ insight seems important. Our self talk, indeed our self-questioning does reflect a mindset, one that can foster either negativity and self-protection, or a positive atmosphere that respects and looks for the best in oneself and others and what they can do. It seemed to me that the critical insight of this book is that of questioning our assumptions, and asking ourselves if there are other ways to think about the situations we encounter. Often, we get locked into one way of seeing things, often one that doesn’t do justice, either to us, or to the others in our lives. Adams’ approach helps us get unlocked.