Vincent Lenhardt’s book, translated from his native French by Guy Bullen, is an intense and involving read which requires time and commitment from the reader. I suggest that, although the author recommends his work both to “seasoned coaches and those starting on the coaching journey”, this is not for those without a strong desire to delve deeply into the art and science of the subject.
For Lenhardt, coaching is about creating the conditions in which people come to understand that for change to take place in their world, they first need to undergo a transformation of their own identity. This requires coming to terms with their self-esteem and self-knowledge, and being aware of your limits and capabilities. In his words, “the objective of coaching is to build the client’s autonomy by relating to others … in finding the right stance in the complex dance of human relationships” (p 71).
A nuanced philosophy
The author’s premise is that coaching is an alliance between the coach and the coached: he talks warmly of the necessary development of the relationship between the two and of the imperative for the coach to clearly understand the context, environment and particular circumstances of their client before attempting to elicit solutions. There is also great focus given to the recognition that the very relationship between coach and client will in some way skew the outcomes of the coaching and that the coach needs to be aware of this and – in some way – mitigate for this in the coaching process.
Right from the beginning of the book Lenhardt employs a number of very specific words and terms, which he highlights in the text with an asterisk. The asterisk denotes the existence of a greyed-out definition box somewhere in the text; immensely helpful to the reader! Also useful are the lists of questions that the author poses at the end of most chapters. Indeed, the book is well laid-out and does as much as it can to support the reader through the reading journey.
One feature of the book works particularly well: Lenhardt draws from his own diverse experience and learning to contrast Western thinking with the philosophies and practices of other cultures. A good example of this is on page 17, where the Western approach of goal-setting and project planning is contrasted with the Chinese philosophy of letting effects come and allowing situations to evolve to their best outcome.
Emphasising the value of person-centric coaching
There are also interesting comparisons between the characteristics of coaching and leadership. For example, Lenhardt notes that both leadership and coaching are orientated around the question of meaning, focusing on causality (“why?”) and purpose (“what for?”). Furthermore, the leader and coach both play the role of linkman and facilitator in order to bring people out, allow them to open up and see what possibilities exist for them.
Of the ten strategies referred to in the title of the book, the author describes the first five as ‘operational’, being about what to do and how to do it. There are then four ‘identity’ strategies, which deal with character and personality construction; and a tenth, which Lenhardt labels the crystallisation strategy, wherein the coach enables the client to achieve their aims and attain fulfilment. All ten strategies underpin the fundamental approach that coaching should be person-centred: they also lean heavily on ‘scripting’ – using metaphor and storytelling to describe and define where the client is coming from and heading toward.
One facet of this book provides a useful distinction from other books about coaching: the author emphasises several times that the coach should not remain completely separated from the client’s issues; and that it is alright for coaches to have a view on the challenges facing their client. The coach’s skill in identifying when to intervene and what to say – and how to say it – determines to what extent their interventions are effective. An additional distinction is the singular focus on the coach’s own state of mind and the impact that the coach’s own responses and emotional reactions can have on the whole coaching experience.
This book speaks strongly to the author’s extensive coaching practice, and it appears to be authentic in style and deep in content. Some of the phrasing and descriptions are overly academic – I might even say unnecessarily complicated. However, here is an author who has steeped himself in the subject matter and formed his own theories and practices, as well as apparently intimately understanding those of other authorities. It is not for the fainthearted, but is hugely rewarding for those with a genuine interest in coaching.
Reviewer’s rating: 4 out of 5
Book review by David Evans, Head of Organisational Consulting at Primeast, get in touch with David here.