Coaching as a Leader (REVIEWED: iCOACH by Thomas D. Zweifel)
Coaching is a hot topic these days. Everyone is trying to become a coach, or trying to become a coach of coaches. It seems like the big money-maker in the genre is selling a comprehensive plan that transforms a normal, moderately-experienced professional into an independent coach, spreading limitless wisdom to others (while working a couple hours a day from a Mediterranean beach or top-rated golf course, obviously).
While that sounds great, I think that most of us recognize it’s an unrealistic goal, and perhaps not truly relevant to our objectives in life. So what is the real value of this kind of book? What do we get, as leaders from where we are, when we understand coaching? And, of course, what’s the one book hits a hole in one – and earns a place on THE LIST? Let’s find out.
In iCoach: The Simple Little Formula for Freeing Yourself, Boosting People Power, and Changing the World, Dr. Thomas D. Zweifel offers a straight-forward introduction to coaching. This isn’t an advanced book, and in fact Dr Zweifel has several others in the series. That might be an indication of the business strategy in play. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value here.
First, let me recognize a like-minded soul when I see one: within the first dozen pages, Zweifel establishes his first “Ground Rule”, which is that “Books rarely accomplish anything. People do, and they may or may not accomplish things from reading a book.” (20) Bravo! This is always important for us to recognize so that we can find and extract the ideas upon which we can act.
From there, the book works through an introduction to coaching, building to a few specific tools. The introduction is useful for someone who is unfamiliar with coaching as an approach or practice. If we’ve worked with a coach, this will be somewhat basic though perhaps explanatory. But the real value here is seeing how we as leaders might take the approach and apply it to our work. Zweifel draws clear lines between the role of manager, friend, executive, and coach. He argues that coaches work without distraction towards the betterment of their “player,” asking questions rather than providing expertise and challenging assumptions even if the revealed truth is uncomfortable.
As we consider our activities as leaders, this role is useful to have available as we perform the definition of leadership. As Zweifel demonstrates, coaching requires clearly stated and demonstrated commitments to the success of the individual, rather than to other personnel or the company. This is challenging in the context of existing relationships, but possible when we understand that we must deliberately remove all of our other hats when we take this approach. Coaching is accessible, but not always easily, and we must state our intentions and objectives to make the approach work. Both the coach and the player must have clarity in their roles.
From this foundation, Zweifel offers us several tools to bring out the best in others through coaching. His focus is not on expertise. As he says, the coach will never be as expert as the player, who is in his or her own unique situation – bravo for a second time! The approach, then, is to ask questions that allow the player to process and ultimately resolve the issues that they are experiencing. Zweifel has a list of six key questions:
What’s on your mind?
And what else?
What do you want (or what is your objective)?
What are your results?
He works through each of these questions in depth, but the structure is very similar to other open-ended questioning frameworks. As the player ponders each question, the most productive plan of action should be revealed. This isn’t a revolutionary approach, but it offers a simple framework to explore the reality that others experience.
As leaders, our perception is always unique, but interacting with others in this manner reveals some of the shared experience of vision, relationships, and learning. The key is active listening, or perhaps better called absolute listening: rather than think of a response at all, allow the answers to these questions to reveal another person’s experience: the feelings and interchanges that occur in the process of work, and the explanations and beliefs created by vision. We don’t change (“fix”) these experiences by explaining or justifying in that conversation, but rather by acting upon the functions of leadership within the group.
Consider this a SEEING EXERCISE that reveals what is occurring in the group that might otherwise be hidden to us because of our position and role. How can we use this framework of questions, or similar ones, to understand what others experience? Based on their experiences, how can we act upon the functions to create an environment which the members of the group experience in more productive ways?
We probably aren’t going to drop everything we are doing and launch a coaching career based on this book. However, there are some useful ideas in iCoach. If you want to explore in more depth how the coaching role can strengthen your leadership practice, check it out, or look for other coaching resources online or in print. There’s an audible version that looks like it is free, which makes the value proposition quite attractive. This isn’t an essential – it’s not making THE LIST – but iCoach has a couple nice long drives.
Zweifel, Thomas D. iCoach: The Simple Little Formula for Freeing Yourself, Boosting People Power, and Changing the World. iHorizon, 2020.