Book Review – Effective Coaching by Myle Downey

Effective Coaching by Myle DowneyIntroduction
I have read a couple of books on coaching, to understand some of them you will need to have gone through year 1 of a university Psychology degree, this is not one of them. So far I will say this is the simplest book on coaching I have read. While it does describe the popular GROW coaching models, it is lean on models but big on common sense. The use of stories, examples and simple explanations like, potential minus interference equals performance really got me endeared to this book. This is not surprising though, Myles Downey, the author has been on the coaching scene for a while having set up the School of Coaching in London. In the book he is also endorsed by Tim Gallwey, creator of the Inner game concept and books. Believe it or not this book was first written in 1999, and this second edition which I am reviewing in 2003. So Downey was definitely opne of the earlier proponents of coaching in the UK.

This is not a large book with just 223 pages and 12 chapters. It  also has a number of appendices. Following is a brief review of each chapter in the book.

Chapter 1 – A Conversation: This chapter is exactly what the title says, a conversation which is a demonstration of coaching and one the authors uses to emphasize a key message – coaching is not about passing on knowledge.

Chapter 2 – Coaching Described: This is a direct continuation from the first chapter going into a bit more detail about what coaching is. It touches upon different approaches to coaching and then delves into explaining what the inner game is. The inner game is a concept which was introduced by Tim Gallwey in 1974. The author writes more about the inner game in chapter four, but he does discuss one core concept of the inner game using three words which are potential, interference and performance. According to Downey there is a gap between potential and performance and there is something in that gap, which the author refers to as interference. Interference are those things that interfere with our ability to perform. They can prevent potential from turning into performance. Examples of interference are, negative voices in our head, a busy mind or lack of self confidence, thus potential minus interference is equal to performance. Towards the end of this chapter Downey proposes a description of effective coaching as an intervention that delivers joy, achievement and fulfillment within the workplace.

Chapter 3 – Non-  Directive Coaching: This chapter looks at the author’s understanding of the inner game which Downey believes contains the core notions of coaching. The chapter starts out with a definition of coaching as follows, Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another. A detailed explanation of the definition is then given looking at the key words in the definition which are perfomance, learning and development. The section titled, The Spectrum of Coaching Skills is very interesting as it describes skills that appear between directive and non-directive coaching. For instance instructing and giving advice is right up with the directive coaching end of the secturm, while listening to understand and reflecting is at the non-directive end. There is also a brief explanation of the popular GROW coaching model with an example going through each of the stages.

Chapter 4 – Effective Coaching and The Inner Game: The Inner Game is one of those concepts which in my own opinion is not easily garsped, at least from my perspective. The concept of two selves is used to explain the inner game. Self one is that internal voice we hear which seeks to control us characterised by fear and tension. Self two on the other hand is where our full potential to learn and perform lies. The role of the coach is to operate from self two and to help the person being coached or player get into self two and stay there. Further discussed in this chapter is what the author calls following interest, a way for someone to get into self two. An explanation of a player in self two is also given. Two other concepts which have to do with the inner game awareness and flow. Awareness is described as the art of noticing, in this case without judgement or fear. Flow the other concept is best described by an included definition from Daniel Goleman – Flow is a state of self-forgetfullness, the opposite of rumination and worry. People in flow exhibit a masterly flow of what they are doing, their responses perfectly attuned to the changing demands of the task.

Chapter 5 – An Introduction To The Skills of Coaching: This is a very short chapter which merely introduces the skills for coaching. The skills are dealt with in more detail in following chapters. The skills introduced are:

  • generating understanding/raising awareness
  • proposing
  • managing self
  • structuring
  • building relationship
  • understanding organisational context

Chapter 6 – Generating Understanding/ Creating Awareness:  This chapter discusses the coaching skill of generating understanding and creating awareness. The specific skills dicussed under this heading are:

  • Listening to understand
  • Repitition, paraphrasing, summarising
  • Grouping
  • Silence
  • Asking questions that follow interest
  • Asking questions to clarify

Each of these are discussed in detail.

Chapter 7 – Proposing: Proposing is the skill of coaching discussed in this chapter. Downey is very cautious about this skill as he believes that if not used with care in coaching, it can take away responsibility from the player. But there are occasions in coaching where the coach may have something of value to add, but this shouldn’t be the norm. The set of skills under proposing are more close to the directive coaching end of the spectrum and they are:

  • Giving feedback
  • Making suggestions
  • Giving advice
  • Challenging
  • Evoking creativity
  • Transperency

As much as possible coaching should be non-directive where the aim is to get the player to come up with the answers. The coach should not be proposing answers, but on those rare occasions where this is necessary using the skills of proposing carefully can make it an effective process.

Chapter 8 – Coaching In The Workplace: This chapter of interest particularly to managers in the workplace as it deals with the important topic of coaching in the workplace. Firstly the chapter looks at the three responsibilities of a manager expressed leadership, management and coaching. It also looks at why coaching is an important aspect of the manager’s role. The rest of the chapter concentrates on identifying coaching opportunities in the workplace for managers. Some of the opportunities described are:

  • Line-manager coaching direct reports.
  • Coaching in the management processes.
  • Coaching during major change.
  • Before and after training events
  • Coaching as part of leadership
  • Coaching on projects

Chapter Nine – Getting Started: How does a person start coaching? While learning the skills of coaching might be straightforward, doing it in practice is fraught with challenges. Some suggestions are therefore given for how a line-manager can start coaching. They include:

  • Through the appraisal or performance review
  • using feedback as the starting point
  • Through a team agreement
  • Though an individual agreement
  • Alongside tasks, projects or change programmes

Obstacles and pitfalls for the line manager in coaching are also discussed. Getting started as a professional coach is also discussed with the pitfalls involved. The chapter also discusses the coaching relationship outlining the qualities of the a good relationship between the coach and the player. Some of the qualities include trust, honesty, openness and transperency/intent. The chapter concludes with a section on how to set goals for coaching.

Chapter Ten – Coaching Teams: Another interesting chapter dealing with coaching teams. The core message in this chapter is how to set conditions for ensuring coaching take nplace in teams. In other words how do you ensure that there is no interference in a team that can prevent effective coaching from happening. Using GROW for coaching teams is also explained.

Chapter Eleven – Coaching in Context: When I started reading this chapter, initially it didn’t make sense , but as I read further it became quite clear. For me the nessage of this chapter is – coaching cannot be done in isolation of the organisational context. A four quadrant framework is used to compare the individual (being coached) to the organisation. This model is used to identify the level of congruence between the individual’s desire and values and that of the organisation. But the quadrant goes even further as it compares each parties own values with their actions. An individual whose values or desires are not congruent to with their actions will not achieve fulfillment in what they do. It’s even more challenging when the individual’s goals are not congruent with that of the organisation. Why is this important to coaching? Often the coaching client is the organisation not the person being coached and since the ultimate aim of coaching is to improve performance, understanding the organisational context in which the player operates in is necessary. This context will affect the effectiveness of coaching.

The four quadrant model is a good tool for getting to grips with the organisational context. But how do observations and insights obtained when using the tool get translated into something valueble for the player during coaching? According to Downey, by generating and testing hypothesis. This involves generating suppositions and seeking evidence to validate the suppositions. The validated suppositions can then be used as part of a coaching session. This process is explained in the chapter.

Chapter Twelve – The Art of Coaching: The concluding chapter but not the end of the book gives osme further advice about how to make coaching effective. The author describes this chapter as being about his own experience of the inner aspects of coaching. Two inteferences which can limit the effectiveness of coaching are described which are, “trying to get it right” and the “coach’s possible thoughts, opinions, and judgements of the player”. By “trying to get it” Downey expresses that coaching should not be driven by rules or concepts which try to point out the right way to coach. An example he gives is not getting stuck to the notion that coaching should always be non-directive, because at times a more directive approch may be the required option. He looks at different approaches to coaching through four hierarchical levels.

  1. Level One – Following interest which is purely a non-directive approach. It’s the foundation and fundamental approach to effective coaching.
  2. Level Two – Structure which describes the structured way a coach approaches a session. For instance using GROW is a structure.
  3. Level Three – Process refers to a sequence of actions or events aimed at creating movement in the player’s understanding and it could include things like using guided visualisation.
  4. Level Four: This refers to what the coach knows and could include factual knowledge, experience, wisdom, and intuition. This level is highly directive.

The second inteference seen as the coach’s own mindset consists of thoughts, opinions and judgements that the coach may have of the player which may prevent effective coaching. Downey explains strategies he uses to overcome this interference.

As I wrote earlier this chapter does not conclude the book. There are a number of useful appedices at the end of the book. they are listed below.

  • Appendix 1 – Counselling, mentoring and coaching.
  • Appendix 2 – Training coaches.
  • Appendix 3 – Questions to ask a prospective coach – a buyers perspective.
  • Appendix 4 – Co – Supervision exercise.

I have mixed feelings about this book. To start with it gave me a good understanding of coaching but there were also aspects of it that confused me. But I Still maintain that it’s the simplest book on coaching I have read. If I were to pick three learning points that stood out for me they would be:

  1. The description of skills for non-directive and directive coaching.
  2. Explanation of the GROW model.
  3. Coaching inteference.

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