Most helpful critical review
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Is it the coach or the coaching?
on October 1, 2004
Blanchard and Homan have set out to demonstrate the benefits of coaching to readers who may not have experienced the process first-hand. Some readers will be looking for ways to change their lives; others want a preview of what's in store if they hire a coach.
It is important to understand that Blanchard and Homan are explaining a very specific type of coaching, what could be called "mainstream" coaching, identified in many minds with the original CoachU under the leadership of Thomas Leonard. If you hire a graduate of another coach school, or an independent coach, you may get a whole different experience.
Even more important, Blanchard and Homan seem to be exceptional as people and as coaches. They share a a fairly sophisticated understanding of business. Many -- some would say most -- coaches do not resemble them. Going to coach school doesn't automatically create a business, career or relationship expert.
For example, I really liked the section on managing one's strengths, a topic that is rarely discussed. The authors describe what happens when young lawyers begin to do well, intimidating the partners. As coaches, they helped their clients overcome these obstacles to success. But not every coach has the political savvy to address those challenges. Blanchard and Homan didn't learn these skills in coach school.
Readers who identify with the chapter topics will find helpful guidance. But as a certified grinch, I believe the authors left out a key question: "What are the challenges that this type of coaching is uniquely suited to addressing? And what assumptions do mainstream coaches make about human behavior?"
The authors write that coaching is "an art of the soul and coaches are artists of the soul." And the "goal of coaching is to help clients objectively see where they are .. and where they need to be ... and then develop a plan to get them there with as little effort and as much fun as the law will allow."
These definitions are appealing but vague. I've seen many concepts of "soul." There are hundreds of ways to help people get from here to there. In reality, I've found that mainstream coaches often assume their clients have the answers. They need help with confidence, accountability and "backward plans."
Blanchard and Homan are probably wise enough to avoid applying these techniques universally to any client who shows up on their doorstep. But they need to articulate their understanding to help readers choose their own coaches. Not everyone wants a cheerleader and some people actually function most effectively with what psychologists call "defensive pessimism."
So I think this book would be even more helpful with a section discussing not just what a coach might do, but when and why this type of coaching works. Every theory has limits of applicability; even gravity works only under certain atmospheric conditions. There's no universal solution for "everyone."
By making explicit the assumptions and limits of coaching, the authors would avoid some sources of confusion. For instance, they describe a client who felt she had to "come clean" with her coach about smoking. The coach responded, "I don't care if you smoke." Although coaching is supposed to be a partnership, this example suggests some kind of power imbalance. And indeed some coaches say openly, "I give my clients permission to..." Permission implies power.
As a minor glitch, the book jacket makes mention of a 25-item self-survey, but I found a 46-item "scrubdown." Perhaps they can make a correction in the next edition.
Bottom Line: If you're lucky to work with someone of the caliber of these authors, you'll probably benefit. But it's up to you to decide if you're benefiting from their intelligence and business expertise or from application the coaching tools they present in their chapters.