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Must have coaching books

March 25, 2007

I just returned from the LMA (Legal Marketing Association) Annual Conference in Atlanta where I had the good fortune to present “Coaching the Alpha Lawyer” with Heather Gray-Grant the Marketing and Business Development Director from the firm Alexander Holburn LLP. I’d like to thank the members of the audience who attended the presentation for their warm welcome, active participation, and great questions. As promised, here is a list of my favorite coaching books:

1. Hargrove, Robert. Masterful Coaching, Revised Edition. John Wiley & Sons; 2002. I can’t recommend this book enough. His materials on the seven hat coaching system, winning strategies, and river/rut stories, are valuable tools for coaching in the law firm. If I could only own two coaching books this would be one of them.

2. Flaherty, James. Coaching, Evoking the Excellence in Others, Second Edition. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005.

This is the second book I think is absolutely vital reading for anyone interested in coaching. The word for Flaherty is RIGOROUS. His bibliography reads like it belongs in a PHD dissertation. Where some coaches like to work exclusively with leaders who are motivated high-performers up for a challenge, Flaherty’s approach to coaching works with a much broader group of individuals.

In the introduction to the second edition Flaherty writes:

How do I contribute to someone’s competence in a respectful, dignified, and effective way? If you find yourself asking these or similar questions, then this book definitely has something to say to you. (p. xxiii)

In late April I will be taking part in an advanced coaching program with Flaherty in San Francisco, and I’ll be sure to report on the experience in this blog when I return!

Other great coaching books if you are interested in further reading:

3. O’Neil, Mary Beth. Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with Their Challenges. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

4. Crane, Thomas G. The Heart of Coaching, Using Transformational Coaching To Create a High-Performance Culture. Second Edition. FTA Press, 2002.

5. Coaching for Leadership, How the World’s Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn. Edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, Alyssa Freas. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2000.    







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When does it make sense to work with a coach?

January 29, 2007

Coaching is a broad area of practice.  There are life coaches – who help people with personal challenges and goals, career coaches – who help people with career change, and executive coaches – who help people facing issues and challenges in their professional lives.  There are also numerous consultants who use coaching approaches towards their work but who have never received any professional training in the practice.

With this in mind, when is it best to work with a trained executive coach? 

The answer can be found in the three levels of learning that coaching touches upon: single loop, double loop, and triple loop learning. 

Single loop learning is used to describe the learning that facilitates people getting things done and improving upon current skills.  Coaching in this way is an “accountability partnership”, with the coach helping the client to set goals, take action, and then “staying on” the client to ensure follow-through.  Coaching for single loop learning can be implemented by lawyers mentoring their associates, by legal marketers working with lawyers and staff, and by most any other professional.  Consultants without any professional training in executive coaching generally work with their clients on single loop learning. 

A couple of examples of this kind of coaching are: 

  • A single coaching conversation with an lawyer helping her to establish some goals and actions to take in the following six months.
  • A sales trainer providing coaching to lawyers who are keen on improving their rainmaking skills.

When learning needs move up one level to double loop it is time start thinking of working with a trained executive coach. 

Double loop learning involves teaching people to do entirely new things, reframing a person’s perspective so that they are able to see new possibilities and are empowered to re-think and re-design their actions. 

Pamela Weiss, a Master Certified Coach (MCC) has a great article on the web about the levels of coaching.  In the article she describes working with double loop learning:

At this level, we help our clients learn something new. We work with the person so that they can not only accomplish a goal or task one time, but also learn to continuously do it on their own.  We help open new possibilities, so the client is able to take new action. Our aim here is to teach them how to do something, rather then just telling them what to do. This requires more skill on our part, and it takes more time, more patience, and a deeper relationship with the client (p.6).

An example of double loop learning would be working with a lawyer who is averse to the idea of selling legal services but who is facing the challenge of expanding his client base. 

Triple loop is in my view entirely the realm of qualified executive coaches.  Triple loop learning is most valuable when a person is blocked.  When the approaches and strategies they adopted successfully in the past are now holding them back. 

Triple loop learning is based on the principle that the human personality is fluid.  Learning at this level fundamentally transforms a person by altering their personal definition of self.  Coaching at this level supports a person in adopting new characteristics and personal qualities and supports the individual in implementing entirely new strategies. 

If you want to think outside of your box, triple loop learning will get you there.

An example of a situation requiring triple loop learning is a leader who has learned to use the winning strategy of micro-managing to succeed.  Now, as Managing Partner, this strategy is breaking down.  The leader is bogged down in details, caught up in the day to day issues, and loosing sight of the firm’s overall strategy, and goals.  Triple loop learning will be required to help the leader see and acknowledge the limitations of the current strategy and empower the leader to adopt a new approach. 

There has been a lot of writing on these levels of learning and coaching.  If you are interested in reading more on the subject I particularly recommend Robert Hargrove’s book Masterful Coaching and Pamela Weiss’ article mentioned above.  In my description of single loop learning I borrowed the term “accountability partnership” from Weiss’ work.

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Five principles of coaching

January 19, 2007

One of the coaches I most admire is James Flaherty in San Francisco.  Flaherty is the author of Coaching:  Evoking Excellence in Others which is truly one of the definitive texts of the profession.

Flaherty advocates five key principles for coaching: relationship, pragmatism, two-way learning, context, and full engagement. 

One. The foundation of coaching is the relationship between client and coach.  There must be a base of mutual trust, respect, and freedom of expression.  The coach and client have to be able to speak clearly and openly with each other.  In the coaching relationship, feedback, insights, and observations are respectfully and honestly shared between both parties, coach to client, client to coach.  Complete confidentiality is demanded on the part of the coach. 

In law firms this lawyer-coach relationship creates a new space for learning that I believe has never before existed in the profession.  Mentor-associate relationships involve one-way feedback, as do evaluations, and other regimented feedback mechanisms.  For the first time there is the opportunity for a professional to “look in the mirror” as it were and obtain neutral feedback, while at the same time providing feedback for the coach on her own performance.

Two. Coaching is essentially pragmatic.  The goals set are practical and observable.  The coach is always observing the outcomes and self-correcting along the way.  Flaherty writes: 

¦it’s a discipline that requires freshness, innovation, and relentless correction according to the outcomes being produced.  In other words it is invalid for a coach to say, I did everything right, but the coaching didn’t work. My view is that the coach who makes that statement wasn’t self-correcting as he went along, and instead followed a rote routine that may have worked before (p. 11).

Three.  The principle of two-way learning means that both the client and the coach are engaged in a learning experience.  On one hand is the work the coach does with the client.  On the other, the coach works on herself.  She must be vigilant in self-observing, checking assumptions, and remaining focused. 

Often coaching fails because of the blindness, prejudice, stubbornness, or rigidity of the coach, and not because of the uncoachability of the client (p. 12). 

Four. The next principal, context, emphasizes that as adults we come to everything we do with a personal history.  We all have our own perspectives, view of the world, commitments, and take on things.   Flaherty does not advocate giving up on the “tough cases”, or in other words the individuals who are not instantly motivated to try something new, or who are in some way “stuck”.  This is particularly valuable in the law firm context where, given the conservative nature of the profession, the majority of professionals will be cautious, and at times seemingly unmotivated, to try new behaviors and approaches.  In many cases, the “unmotivated” individual, is in fact very motivated, just not by the stimuli or methods that have been presented!  As one lawyer said to me about a behavior a sales trainer was asking him to adopt: That just isn’t me.  I am never going to be one of those people that does that.  All people are attached to a particular way of being in the world. Coaching must be adapted to fit individuals. 

Five. The fifth principle is that coaching calls for the full engagement of the coach with the client.  This means that the coach does not rely on a series of techniques to influence the client’s behavior.  Coaching does follows a structure, and employs tools and learning exercises, but it never relies on a set formula.   

Flaherty advocates an approach to coaching that is authentic, rigorous, and most importantly for clients, powerfully effective.  The coaches are engaged in continual learning and are responsible for their actions. Coaching of this nature is designed around both short-term and long-term objectives.  In the short-term the coach supports the client’s progress towards set goals, while at the same time enhancing the competence of the client to take on new challenges in the future.


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