BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 19 MAY 2017


The Tao of Coaching is one of my favourite books about coaching.  I’ve been coaching as part of my role for around 19 (count them) years, but been a qualified Executive Coach for “only” 12 of those.  Coaching and the accreditation thereof as a profession is a recent trend.  Luckily there are a number of (excellent) providers and accredited bodies out there.  If you’re really interested in becoming a coach it’s easy to find a course out there that will help you to uncover:

  • What coaching is – and what it isn’t  
  • Why coaching is so important – for you; your team and your organisation
  • How to coach properly – the skills and the process
  • Who your best candidates are for coaching
  • When to do and – and when not
  • Whether coaching really is for you (it’s hard work – much harder than it looks)

When I started coaching, there wasn’t the plethora of courses and resources that you find today.  Fortunately, one of things I got my hands on early doors was Max Landsberg’s “The Tao of Coaching”.  This fantastic book (updated with extra material in 2016) looks at both the process and skill of coaching and feedback.  It was, quite simply, my go-to guide in the early years of my development as a coach.  Here’s why:

I started working with a coaching approach as part of an in-house team debriefing the oft-dreaded 360 degree feedback to managers on a development programme.  It was essential to be able to build rapport – quickly – with people who were seeing their feedback results, and discuss the implications for them of what they were seeing.  For most of them, it was the first time that they’d had others’ views about their performance and behaviours fed back.  Some of them got a really pleasant shock.  Some – the rare few – were absolutely aligned with others’ views of what was and wasn’t working well.  Then of course there were those for whom it was a really devastating, horrible shock.  Their intentions (we ascribe to the view that all behaviour comes from a place of positive intention, irrespective of the effects) were not having the desired effect.  

So first and foremost there was often an emotional reaction – ranging from shock, denial, anger, tears, declarations of revenge etc – and thereafter a complete sense of bafflement as to what to do next.

It was my job to help them ride the wave of my emotions and then to help them make sense of what, if anything, they were going to do differently.

Here’s where coaching becomes a challenge.  You can sometimes see (or at least imagine you can see) the cause, solution and course of action related to any challenge, issue, problem, or whatever you want to call it.  You want to jump in and tell them what’s what and what to do next.  This is hugely problematic.  Unless the person sees the need for, and genuinely wants to, change, nothing at all will happen.  

You need, rather, to put yourself in the passenger’s, rather than the driver’s seat, and from there guide the person from where they are now, to where they want to be.  Some of the skills that you need to do this are:

  • Listening.  Really listening, not just waiting.  We call it Level Three Listening, when you’re really in the moment with the person, focusing on their agenda, not yours.
  • Linked closely to listening, reflecting key themes and emotions that present themselves (sometimes you’re aware of these before the person being coached is aware of them).
  • Summarising regularly throughout your conversation.  This helps you to keep track of what’s being said; shows the other person you are truly listening and if you get anything wrong/miss something out allows them to correct things/fill the gaps for you.
  • Silence.  Some people (I’m one of them) talk in order to think.  Others think in order to talk and are really comfortable with silence.  It feels rich and alive to them and they do some great thinking in that time.  And whether you’re one or the other, silence creates a space that begs to be filled.  Using silence as a coach keeps your coachee in the driving seat. 
  • Questioning.   One question at a time, please.  Not multiples (your coachee will answer whichever one they remember or like best).  Not leading ones….do you know what I mean?  They should be open (what, how, where, when etc); probing (tell me more…) and when appropriate, closed, once you’ve really drilled down to the detail (so you’ve committed to doing that by close of play, Tuesday?).
  • Feedback in the here and now.  As with the 360 degree feedback, people can’t always see what others see.  If they’re perplexed, your feedback on what you have seen or heard, and the effect on you, can help them to make sense of broader themes. Delivered in an observational and non-judgmental way, of course.

This takes us to the processy bit of coaching:

The AID Model for feedback:  

  • It stands for Action, Impact, and Desired outcome.  I also like to spell it AIDE, to include a piece about Exploration – perspectives (yours and theirs); examples; background etc

The Grow Model for moving people from issue through to action plan:   

  • It stands for Goal, Reality, Options and What next.  In principle it’s easy to understand but in practice it can be really hard (see my previous comments about seeing the solution and wanting to jump in, for starters).  You and the coachee may start with your Goal, and then during the Reality phase realise that something else is more urgent/important, and need to go back and reset that Goal.  This is fine.  It’s normal.  And then in the Options phase, you have to accept (as the coach) that there may well be dozens of things that they could/should do, but it’s about them identifying what’s right for them, right now, and going with that.  When you get to What next you help the coachee pin down and prioritise the actions, when they’ll be doing them, in what order, and how they keep the momentum going.  It’s hard to do all this – hence the person being coached needs to really, really want to make a change.

As a novice to all of this (ie debriefing people’s 360 degree feedback), I was genuinely worried that I was doing more harm than good, which is what took me to seek out the best practice methodology.  

Thanks to the Tao of Coaching I got on the right path, quickly, before I started blundering about like a bull in the proverbial china shop.  

It’s essential reading if you’re thinking about using coaching skills as a manager; becoming a coach, or even being coached, so that you know what to expect (nay, demand) from a fantastic coaching relationship.  I still refer to it today from time to time, and was delighted when in 2016 Max Landsberg produced another book, this time called “Mastering Coaching” – that’s another well-thumbed book on my bedside reading pile!

Interested to know more about becoming a great manager-coach?  Give us a call today.  


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about the author

Nicky is our Senior Consultant & Executive Coach and is an expert on coaching. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.


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