For-profit Business (Corporate)
Pacific Soundings Press
A BOOK REVIEW by Russell P. Beale, Ph.D.
Phenomenon of the '90's and Beyond,
A Book Review of Executive Coaching:
An Appreciative Approach by William
Bergquist, Kenneth Merritt & Steven Phillips.
Copyright 1999. Pacific Soundings Press;
425 University Ave, Suite 201
Sacramento, CA 95825
ISBN Number 0-9661962-0-1
Whether you are an executive with a Fortune 500 company, a Human Resource manager, or an entrepreneur, you have become aware of executive coaching. It is nearly impossible to go to a conference or any business meeting and not come across some discussion of coaching. Many consider coaching as the helping relationship for management in the postmodern corporate and business world. The just released book, Executive Coaching: An Appreciative Approach (written by William Bergquist, Kenneth Merritt and Steven Phillips), provides readers a glimpse into one of the most exciting new concepts within the past ten years, "Appreciative Inquiry," in the context of three models of executive coaching.
Executive Coaching: An Appreciative Approach, is more than a book about the methodology of coaching with executives. Although it is that, too, it is about being a coach almost as a way of being. It is not quite the Zen of coaching that John Whitmore speaks of in his book, Coaching for Performance, but, note the less, it is a philosophy about how to approach the coaching experience with executives. Even though it is basically written for the "want-to-be" executive coach, its depth will add important new material for experienced coaches as well. Most importantly it provides for coaches, leaders, managers, or supervisors, a way of relating to their colleagues and clients who want a coaching relationship.
The authors look at how adults learn and emphasize that coaching focuses on developing awareness through questioning. Questions compel attention for an answer and focus attention for reflection and feedback. Instruction does none of these. The coaches' use of questions are to raise awareness and responsibility for transformational change. Coaching becomes one of the more formal ways that learning can take place along with counseling and consulting. The authors differentiate between coaching, consulting, and counseling in providing learning experiences for the executive. Although there is a great deal in common between the three disciplines, the key differences are made explicit, one of which is that in coaching you can easily switch places the your colleague or client whereas in counseling and consulting that role shift cannot take place.
In difference from other books on coaching (Whitmore, 1997; Stowell and Starcevich, 1998) they emphasize that an "appreciative perspective" must undergird any executive coaching program. They state that in essence an "appreciative perspective" concerns a willingness to engage in dialogue with another person from an assumption of mutual respect and the mutual search for the discovery of distinctive competencies and strengths. This becomes the theme of the entire book and is imbedded in their three models for coaching. A manager who has not become familiar with Appreciative Inquiry, or has not developed an appreciative approach my find their models too non-directive. Traditional models of management, where confrontation and feedback directed at deficits are the basis of learning, would be antithetical to this approach. The quote David Cooperider's suggestion, "People and organizations do not need to be fixed. They need constant reaffirmation." In this approach, compassion and real caring for a colleague are expressed within the appreciation of their values, goals and intentions. This does not imply a loss of discipline nor a loss of boundaries between one's own problems and perspectives and those of another. Every counselor is familiar with the dangers of over identification and enabling the avoidance of responsibility, and every coach needs to be aware of this as well.
In this book readers will not only learn about three models of coaching but also about a model for viewing executives and organizations. The writers present four executive styles and organizational cultures that provide the coach with a frame of reference from which to examine executive functioning. These four styles of executive functioning (assertive, inspiring, thoughtful and participating) are said to "…represent quite different notions about the purposes, functions and values associated with executive functioning in today's organizations." These are based on assumptions about ways in which executives can be effective in leading an organization. They suggest that each can be effective in certain situations and ineffective in others. Their illustrations suggest that for a style to be effective the executive must have the ability to relinquish his "home base" or preferred style and assume a less comfortable style in order to succeed. A preferred style might be considered a strength but if exaggerated it becomes a weakness. It is clear that no one style fits all situations and it behooves the coach to be aware and assist the executive in developing the options and choices necessary for effectiveness. The appreciative approach again comes to the rescue as the coach uses inquiry to assist the executive toward increased awareness through self-reflection and responsibility. The book provides some "preliminary guidelines" for helping the executive discover his/her "preferred style." Strengths in each of the non-preferred styles are needed for the multiple contexts that the executive might find himself or herself dealing with. The reader will find explanations of appropriate and inappropriate uses of the strengths of each style. It is important that the coach be as nimble and flexible as the "coachee" in order to move from one style to another, and be willing and able to engage another colleague who has the appropriate style needed for change.
The formulation of the executive styles and the offering of models for coaching is unique to this work and offers the "budding coach" as well as the experienced one a new and exciting perspectives on executive coaching. Within the context of their three models, Reflective Coaching, Instrumental Coaching, and Observational Coaching, the work guides the reader through basic skills and the obstacles that block the process. There is a great deal more to this book than the outlining of skills and methods because it offers a way of being a coach and a philosophy of leadership. Even though their discussion of the models contained familiar material, some of which can be found in other books on coaching, much of the material is new and will enlighten the most experienced coach. This work is a must read for anyone entering the field and equally so for the experienced coach.