Five books to turn you into a coach with perspective
We asked Ward Howell consultant Alexey Ulanovsky, well known for his impressive knowledge of current, international literature on coaching, to recommend a couple of books for our coaching consultant library. Below is the list of books Alexey recommends with his commentary.
A recommendation is always subjective. It is intricately intertwined with the values, background, and approach of the person making the recommendation. My recommendation is no exception. I am deeply certain that coaching is a practice that demands a broad perspective and strong qualifications. It is for that reason that I think that my recommended book list include books from 1) the field of psychology, because any form of coaching requires working with a person and his internal composition, 2) the field of organizational leadership, because organizations and businesses are the playing fields of coaching, it is within them that coaches exist and recommend full-fledged changes in practice, 3) the history and principles of coaching, because it is important to understand our roots.
1. Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” isn’t a textbook on psychology, but it is part of the new wave of psychology, which essentially focuses on the same things coaching does: strengths, well-being, flow (created by positive psychology), personal resources. The relationship between positive psychology and coaching is a mutual partnership, in which the first side examines what is “good” in a person and in organizations, and the second builds on this and tries to develop it. Seligman is one of the fathers of this research (the second is the widely known Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). This book is not his most recent, but I recommend it for this list.
2. These days, many find themselves completely lost in a sea of books on leadership. If you don’t know where to start or what is worthy of your attention, start with Richard Daft’s book. It’s the best in its class – systematic, encyclopedia-like, practical, authoritative. It provides excellent context for understanding executive leadership and middle management – our direct clients in individual coaching. A deeper understanding of their circumstances, problems, needs, and relationships is critical to work in business coaching.
3. Otto Kernberg’s book is, in my opinion, one of the best books on leadership. It differs from his previous book in that it relies on the fairly distinctive, extremely interesting and in-depth psychodynamic or psychoanalytic (as known in the West) approach. He focuses on irrationality, the “underwater” currents in the life of an organization that aren’t always obvious to an organizational consultant, but that are seen in phenomena such as regressive processes in teams, the homogenization of opinions, the idealization of leaders, etc. The book is difficult to read in certain places, because it is written for an audience well-versed in psychoanalytical terminology, but is still possible to understand with a little perseverance and desire.
4. A classic of the genre. The book of Timothy Gallwey, the founding father of coaching, was first published in 1974 and has since then become a bestseller. The book reveals his concept of the two “I”s, which are constantly challenging each other within the minds of athletes and every single one of us. However, Gallwey’s genius lies not as much in the actual concept but in his method of working with athletes, which was later crystallized into the “coaching” method. It includes nonviolent, spontaneous self-education, based on observation and imitation of the best examples of how to perform an action, working with an image of how this is done and trust in one’s own body.
5. This book is well known to us. I included it in the list because it wonderfully captures the spirit and meaning of coaching through its orientation on positive, concrete results, the search for many different ways of reaching those results and the necessity of “grounded” client solutions based on when, what, and who. This is the book of John Whitmore, who brought to Europe Gallwey’s ideas on the inner game, and significantly influenced the formulation and dissemination of coaching in European countries, including Russia.
Alexey Ulanovsky is a consultant at Ward Howell who oversees leadership programs and development sessions for executives. He is also an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics.
For more on this topic, read Coaching today: a tool for development, but not yet for management, about the 4th edition of Stanislav Shekshnia’s book How to Effectively Manage Free People: Coaching.