Book Review: "Translating Coaching Codes of Practice" - I was intrigued by the promise of the title of this book... and I was not disappointed! by Isobel Gray (guest)

(Contributing author of the two poems in the book)

“I found this book very impressive and richly affirming; stimulating and thought provoking, with plenty of practical tips and original insights for review. … I do not feel it’s a one-off read through book. Rather it is something that I can see myself coming back to frequently as a regular reference point because of the very rich and diverse menu of material on offer in this book.”  Isobel Gray, 2016.


Overview

I associate ‘Code of Practice’ with a process around professional standards that is essentially compliance based, rather than anything more inspirational. Turning the word ‘code’ into the plural of ‘codes’, together with the strapline “Insights from the leading edges of everyday practitioners” suggests a whole different interpretation that is much more inspiring as every individual has a unique personal approach in their practice within the broad principles of 'a coaching approach'. The reality of this more holistic approach happens in a broad range of life and organisational circumstances and for me it represents something much bigger.

For me, the totality of this book represents this reality through the eyes of practitioners – who are the people on the front line.

In her preface, the editor, Yvonne Thackray, uses the story of the Human Genome Project (HPG) as a powerful analogy for the positioning of ‘the good coach’ in relation to the evolution of the role of coaching and the coaching world itself.  The initial leading ‘expert’ scientists identified that 98% of the DNA material was “junk” declaring that it was not relevant. It turned out that the material identified as “junk” indeed did play a critical if complex role; it was just poorly understood and too complicated to take account of (similar to the simple model that is being promoted by vested coaching organisations).

This truly resonates with my experience of the limitations in learning that take place in organisational life on a daily basis. Assumptions and limited thinking leads to what turns out to be flawed thinking – only obvious with the benefit of hindsight! This demonstrates the value of “being curious about diversity, rather than setting arbitrary boundaries” (Preface page v). It’s also good to see that this book continues to represent, and continually pushes forward,  the philosophy of ‘the good coach’: (1) Celebrating the diversity of approaches to coaching, and (2) Taking an independent position in seeking to develop a deeper understanding of coaching and how it operates in all its different contexts.


Detailed Review

As an experienced Executive Coach, and having reviewed the broad based multi-disciplinary field of knowledge and writings about coaching over a number of years, I foundthis book both refreshing and highly stimulating. Most current writings on the subject of coaching are generalized and heavily based on ideas and theory. While these have their place, there is very little of substance out there that truly connects to the real experience and perspectives of coaching practitioners, and the messy realities and complexities of organisational life that coaches work with.

The book contains a substantive collection of nearly 70 short articles portraying experiences and perspectives on coaching practice, written by 18 experienced coaches who bring a diversity of styles and backgrounds. This diversity is further manifested in the international mix of authors, from the UK, mainland Europe, India, Asia and the US. The impact of this in a deeper and more creative way is illustrated in one of the articles "East meets West" which explores how different philosophies rooted in different religious and ethnic cultures, can be drawn on in a way that respects and makes best use of the similarities, as well as the differences, to inform coaching more creatively.

I was drawn to the fact that the articles, although written in a good variety of styles, demonstrated rigor and objectivity, while being highly personal and true to the individuality of the authors. Here is a group of diverse and, experienced coaches freely sharing their knowledge, experiences and perspectives. Along with the writing itself, the references and author profiles show clearly that the material has been written by highly established coach practitioners, several obviously familiar with the leading edge of research in the field; others being more experience based.

I liked the fact that the book was highly approachable and easy to read. Most of the articles were originally written for ‘the good coach’ blog, (www.the-goodcoach.com). While these can easily be seen individually on-line free of charge, it is very different having them collated in one place. The format of a range of short articles grouped into clusters within 3 broad themes meant there was a sense of true coherence with the ability to dip in and out. That really worked for me.

I also believe that in our field, experiential learning is central to effective coaching. After all, that’s what we draw on with our clients. We help them draw on the true value they bring to situations, which otherwise they can hugely under-estimate.

I particularly liked those who were more open about the true challenges and issues facing them and who drew on their experience when describing cases and providing examples of the kind of issues clients bring. For example, managing upwards in the traditional hierarchical culture that still exists in parts of the UK Civil Service; what 'resilience' looks like for real from the perspective of a group of managers in a UK public sector organisation, and how peer coaching helped them be more resilient; making tough career choices in the fast moving and competitive environment of Professional Services.

Other articles focus on particular approaches and techniques used in coaching. For example how to make good use of psychometrics in coaching and the challenges of coaching typically “dominating” personalities; using coaching approaches with teams and groups to create greater “collective intelligence”, gaining more of a thought through “mindful” contribution from more people within an organisation. While there is much written about these themes, the sharing of the knowledge, the real experience and learning of practitioners landed with me powerfully.

Other articles drill into the general terms and labels we use in coaching, for example “readiness”, and examine what they mean in more detail and how coaching really works with that. I particularly liked this article. It starts by exploring relevant research and theories before moving on to give a detailed description of the behaviours this particular practitioner had identified, from observing his experience, as the typical sequence of coach behaviours that contribute to creating the most conducive conditions for developing the coaching relationship, being led by the moment-to-moment ‘evidence’ of the behavioural cues from the client. It made more explicit, what I think I do, largely intuitively.

A further three articles review evaluation approaches to coaching. The theme of ROI has become a real ‘mantra’ that is increasingly thrown around. While there are useful perspectives to be gained and common strands of good practice, I found one of particular interest.  It explored how the use of qualitative research “collecting stories from our experience” can add to the highly elusive and much sought ‘ROI’ measures used in coaching, and how these can be integrated into the core coaching approach. Again a useful thought provoking and practical article.

Then there are more creative approaches I really liked, such as “SEASIDE COACHING – After the Storm”, a descriptive narrative of how the natural environment, in this case the shoreline and sea, can support deeper coaching conversations.

The final chapter points to the future, including an article assessing the challenges facing the coaching world going forwards and suggesting potential areas for attention, and the role of coaching in managing risk in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world. Finally there are a couple of articles on the benefits to practitioners in writing and sharing these sort of articles/blogs on their practice. I can see that ‘the good coach’ sees this as a powerful form of practitioner research, of benefit to both individual practitioners as an activity of personal CPD, and to the broader coaching world as a contribution to the larger body of knowledge on coaching.

The editor and the good coach editorial team clearly hope to stimulate wider interest in this form of practitioner writing. On the basis of this, I hope they succeed and that there will be more to come.

To connect with Isobel Gray - email her at isobeligray@gmail.com

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Isobel is an OD Consultant and Executive Coach. She writes poetry in her spare time. “I started writing poetry about 5 years ago. My first poem was a spontaneous outpouring of thoughts and feelings the day we chose to have our beloved cat put to sleep when the vet discovered that she had advanced stages of cancer. And it grew from there, so she left me a very special legacy. I write poems on a range of themes - nature, people, and Life, including organisational life, which my work provides very privileged access to. I find it an earthing and liberating form of creative expression”