Like all good books, Myles Downey’s Effective Modern Coaching prompted me to reflect on broader themes in my life and work at the same time as providing me with direct information about the titular subject. And, like all good books, it left me with some simple insights which are worth sharing. It also has the benefit of being an easy read that you can rip through on a couple of transatlantic flights or a regular commute without a problem.
I’m new to formal coaching, so these may be familiar territory to those of you who are immersed in the subject, but I was inspired by the book to share its insights. Be glad to hear from others who may have read this or other coaching books for comparison.
‘Awareness is curative’. I loved this simple thought. It makes such sense. We all know that sometimes people just aren’t aware of the effects their behaviour has on others, or even themselves. Just having it pointed out is often all that’s needed.
I liked his idea of the coachee being thought of as ‘The Player’. This is an easy concept which helps the coach put the person they are coaching centre stage at all times and stops them trying to muscle in on the action. One only has to imagine an actual game of tennis, or a football match to realise that the coach can’t do the job a player does. Brilliant as Ivan Lendl was in his day, I suspect he’d be mashed by Novak Djokovic, and is much better off standing behind Sir Andy Murray and letting him get on the with job. But Downey takes it one stage further. It’s not that the coach does the thinking and the player puts it into action. As he says, ‘The player does the thinking. The coach’s role is to create an environment where the player can do their best thinking.’ In his view therefore, the coach’s primary function is to understand (the challenge, the opportunity, the situation), not to solve it.
Downey also admits that successful coaching comes from a belief in another’s potential rather than having the right answers yourself and imposing them on someone else. The question the book fairly raises is whether everyone has the potential. Downey believes so. His concept of ‘genius’ residing in everyone makes encouraging reading, and it’s not about doing your prescribed 10,000 hours in order to be expert. For him it’s more about allowing people to take responsibility and choice themselves. 99 times out of 100 they’ll have the right answer somewhere inside them. The coach’s job is to help them find it.
Where that answer comes from is therefore another subject that Downey explores in the book. He is a great believer in ‘flow’, the moment when your brain seems to work independently of active thought and seems to come up with solutions on its own. He calls this ‘Self Two’ and encourages us to find that place as often as possible in coaching sessions, although he admits it takes time and focus to get there. As he says, ‘trust the unfolding’, the process which leads you on to that place. His tip is to help the player work out what allows them to think like that. In one example it’s about the player getting up and walking around in order to think better for instance.
The book also covers some good advice on goal setting (with some useful frameworks for matching individual and corporate goals) and giving feedback (as cleanly as possible, supported by data and examples and keeping personal feelings out of it), with the aim to get the player’s opinion on the observed behaviour rather than giving yours. As I said at the start – awareness is curative.
And finally, there was a great quote about change – which is after all at the heart of what coaching is about – whether organisational change or personal growth. As he points out, the brain is essentially lazy, it choses to do the things that require least energy because energy is hard to come by (that explains teenage sofa surfing then!). His observation is that change uses more brain energy than almost anything else, which is why we shy away from it. So if you thought this stuff was hard, you’d be right. Downey’s book shows that there are some real benefits to making the effort though.
In short the combination of well phrased observations and some really good practical tips makes this a worthwhile read for anyone interested in helping others be great. There’s more information on Myles and his thinking at www.mylesdowney.com