Book reviews

Image Credit: Wells-next-the-Sea August 2015

The Coaching Manual by Julie Starr

The Definitive Guide to the Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching

Review by Julia Stallard

Dr Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes Starr’s manual as ” the most current, comprehensive, practical, best-illustrated coaching source I have ever seen.”

I’m inclined to agree. What Starr does so effectively is produces a volume that is accessible and lays out the practical process of coaching – the word manual in the title is appropriate, the book takes you step by step from understanding the meaning and purpose of coaching through what she calls the fundamental skills of coaching and finishes with an impressive toolkit of coaching behaviours to strengthen skills and offers building blocks to guide you through your coaching. As in her Mentoring Manual, every chapter has exercises for the coach to try out, section summaries and a chapter summary, which is incredibly useful to dip into when one needs a refresher or just to help summarise the key points and embed them in the memory – these are invaluable. The whole book is broken up into manageable sections – you could devote an afternoon to getting through a whole chapter, making notes and trying exercises, read a short section when commuting or mark the section and chapter summaries to open up just before a coaching session if you needed to.

As a new coach, the chapter I found most helpful was Coaching Conversations: the Coaching Path. Other chapters are excellent and helped me to be confident about the theory behind coaching, the “dos and don’ts” but the Coaching Path offered the real practical content I needed. One can head into a coaching activity armed with all the theory about the contracting, the barriers to coaching and the coaching models but still lack confidence about one’s actual ability to deliver – to be able to have a conversation that the coachee will find enlightening and empowering through their own contributions and reflection. In  my early coaching, I felt like I was repeating myself when trying to get my coachees to delve a little deeper and express their goals more clearly – this chapter gives you guidance and useful phrases that avoid sounding repetitive, are probing without being forceful.

Starr also provokes the coach to consider the type of coach they wish to be, how they wish to take their coaching forward – this really made me reflect on what I wanted to do with my coaching, how I could develop. The chapter Summary and Close is a great revision tool for experienced coaches and new coaches alike.

A real winner for me and one I won’t be relegating to the attic as long as I am coaching or training coaches.

Follow Julie Starr @juliestarrcoach

Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore

Review by Julia Stallard

This is a weighty book and one that I made the mistake of purchasing as an ebook. This does not make it any less valuable but it does make it considerably more difficult if using this as a textbook for study; gone is the ability to mark passages or pages for quick reference (yes, the bookmark tool is useful but there’s no substitute for a highlighter or a well placed post-it note!)

Now in its fourth edition, Whitmore’s book is the “go-to” manual for those working in the coaching field or studying coaching in any one of its many forms. It is the basis on which coaches start their practice and rightly so. It is laid out in a way that makes learning about the GROW model and coaching process approachable; the book itself speaks to the reader in a coaching manner. By constantly revising the book, Whitmore ensures it keeps its place at the top, with new sections on high performance and transformation through transpersonal coaching that offer insights into spiritual and emotional intelligence and new coaching questions – always sought after!

My feeling is that this Whitmore’s work is very much a “textbook” designed for those who are seeking to coach, maybe those studying a qualification in coaching or who already have some informal experience – people who are or who are going to be professional coaches. It is also worth noting that Whitmore’s focus is on performance coaching and that his own route into coaching is via sports coaching, so, like sports coaching, its focus is on “personal best”.  However, GROW is an excellent model for new and experienced coaches but if you are coaching in the workplace as part of a leadership and management role, your best results might be achieved by looking both at Whitmore and a “manual” for coaching, such as Julie Starr’s The Coaching Manual, which guides you through the process of coaching step by step.

Follow Sir John Whitmore @PCIntl

The Mentoring Manual by Julie Starr

Review by Julia Stallard

It was relief it was to me to open this book! Starr has laid the book out in a structured way, and the text is accessible. One the best features of the book is Starr’s habit of giving a range of clear examples in popular media – characters and relationships in books, films and TV series. Low on “academic” content, the book uses low key theory and common sense; readers are encouraged to reflect thoroughly on own practice through a range of exercises and questions.

For those new to mentoring, the book guides one through the mentoring process from the preparation for mentoring through to how to end the relationship – and just about everything in between. There are exercises to complete and some useful appendices for mentors to use in support of their mentoring practice. That said, it is also a very good book for “dipping into”; it does not need to be read cover to cover, more experienced mentors may just find the handy chapter summaries, the hints and tips and checklists useful and the section on pitfalls is a must read. This book also introduces the idea that we can learn a lot about ourselves and the way we work and behave through mentoring someone else.

Many mentors do not have a formal qualification and I know from experience that mentors in the workplace are frequently asked to mentor due to their subject knowledge/specialism and/or to help develop less experienced colleagues. Some mentors volunteer out of a desire to help others and yet again, many mentors may not be formally mentoring, they have simply found themselves in a position where someone who looks up to them and respects them has asked for help. Starr’s book considers all of this and is aimed at helping a mentor to do the best job they can, whilst establishing boundaries and keeping both themselves and their mentee safe.

The other feature I enjoyed was the quotes at the start of each chapter – these came from a variety of sources, writers, actors, musicians, politicians, etc and provided a reminder that anyone can be a mentor and anyone can seek mentoring. I found these both motivational and inspiring, a really refreshing change from the wordy, academic quotes often found in textbooks devoted to learning and development.

One downside? This book was not available in audio format or Braille, so some of its brilliant accessibility was lost. However, working with a colleague with visual impairment, the chapter summaries were good as they could be read aloud and signpost my colleague to the areas she would need to browse in more detail.

Whether you are new to mentoring or a more experienced mentor looking for new approaches, this book is invaluable.

Follow Julie Starr @juliestarrcoach