The Coaching Manager - A Book Review

The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business
James M. Hunt and Joseph R. Weintraub
Sage publications India Pvt Ltd.2nd Edition 2010, pp302, Price: Rs.395.

The future will challenge corporations to surpass both current and predictable levels of performance and productivity. Organizations in the midst of today’s changes need coaching at the executive and the managerial level to effectively communicate and facilitate where the organization is and where it is headed. In addition to educational development and experience, long-term successful leaders need honest and objective feedback. Coaching is needed today more than ever as a critical tool for successfully engineering organizational change. Adopting coaching as a management style requires managers to help other people unlock their potential and enhance their own performance. It’s about supporting people to learn instead of telling them what the answers are. Coaching is increasing in popularity because of the value it adds to the staff relationships, team work, individual and organizational productivity. Parsloe (1999) defines it as; “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be a successful coach requires knowledge and understanding of the process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which coaching is taking place”.

The distinguished authors James Hunt and Joseph R. Weintraub combine a lifetime of research, development and practice in human behavior and development to explore the underpinnings of coaching in this book. Dr. James Hunt is an associate professor of management and the Charles Barton Term Chair Holder at the Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He teaches Management, Talent development and Leadership besides being a management consultant to numerous business and health care organizations on the development of organizational coaching capability, executive coaching and talent development by managers. Dr. Joseph R. Weintraub is a professor of management and is the Charles Barton Term Chair Holder at Babson College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is an organizational psychologist who focuses in the areas of individual and organizational effectiveness. In addition to this he provides his consulting service to top client companies as President of Organizational Dimensions, a management consulting and assessment firm based in Wellesley. The rich experience of authors is reflected in the content of the book that offers engaging stories, has believable characters with realistic problems illustrating the structure and content of the coaching process.

The book is divided into 14 chapters. With an experience of over 10 years and interaction with more than 4000 practicing managers and entrepreneurs about coaching and talent development the authors start the book with an introduction to coaching, how it is different from mentoring, why it’s good for an organization, why don’t mangers coach and why to think about becoming a coaching manager. Interest in the book starts developing as the reader moves to the second chapter that presents a developmental coaching model which builds on the well connected and detailed case taken as an example. The author uses the example to touch upon themes like “coachable coachee”, creating coaching opportunities, collaboratively interpreting the meaning of performance gaps and creating a plan for change and follow up. The model developed seems quite relevant for the current, fast paced companies. The focus of the content shifts to coaching set up from chapter three onwards. Considering the established fact, that defining success represents defining what people need to do in order to achieve desired results, and thinking through the talent that it takes to be successful; the authors raise the significance of having a competency model for providing a focus and facilitating a structured and systematic approach to coaching. In the coaching friendly context of the future, the manager may increasingly be called upon to manage the environment, particularly the social environment within which the formal as well as informal learning can take place. Chapter four covers this aspect as the authors provide a detailed insight into creating a coaching friendly context by highlighting on the values and norms that characterize a coaching friendly context and the role individual managers can play in their organizations and teams.

People want to work with Managers who coach because those managers help them succeed in both the short term and long term leading to career movement and growth. Apart from creating a coaching friendly organization environment the challenge faced my most managers is how to become ‘coaching managers’. These issues supplemented with real life examples are addressed in chapter five by the author where the focus is on the attitudes and behaviors that characterize a coaching mindset such as making responsibility for learning shared, personal actions of helpfulness and adding a bit of fun to work life. A self assessment tool concludes the chapter. The subsequent chapter takes a closer look at the other partner in the coaching process, ‘the coachee’, the barriers to coachability and tactics for engaging the coachee. However a very critical and significant area covered by the author here is the ‘mismatch’ that happens between the career stage of the employee and the manger as it was shared by many of the coaching managers that they have to vary their approaches to coaching in response to the career stage of the employee. The authors here, evaluate the need for coaching in the light of the five career stages viz. establishment, early career stage, advancement, maintenance and exit.

Once the situation has a high learning opportunity and the employee coachable it falls on the manager to seize the opportunity and begin the process by starting a coaching dialogue. The book provides with sample exercises on learning how to create a coaching dialogue and ask useful questions. The authors use the metaphor of ‘coaching mirror’ in chapter eight where they discuss on how to enable the coachees to see themselves and their actions more clearly by improving the mangers observation ability wherein they provide them with accurate feedback, being cautious of the Pygmalion effect at the same time . An effort is made here to train the reader on observing, inferring and making the most from the various sources of performance data by way of case examples and exercises.

Feedback reflects back to an individual a picture of his or her own actions, behaviors or decisions. There are useful rules of thumb for constructing and delivering feedback which have been covered by authors earlier (Starr,2002 ; J.K. Smart, 2002 ;Whitmore John,2002) who have written on this; but this book offers a little more on the theme apart from managing the mechanics of packaging the feedback data, as it goes beyond and covers in a very pragmatic way how to manage the emotional content of feedback, giving examples of coaching actions or statements in chapter nine.

In line with the developmental coaching model presented in chapter two, chapter eleven discusses about integrating goal setting and follow- up for achieving results. Several cases are illustrated in the subsequent chapter as to how development coaching can be utilized to help employees deal with the career development concerns.

One particular aspect that would appeal to the readers are the true yet disguised examples of common career concerns faced by managers presented as case lets in exhibits like: 

  1. The good employee who has become bored with her job
  2. The employee who wants to move up too fast
  3. The employee with work and family concerns.

This chapter thus brings out the importance of a careful and helpful coaching dialogue when faced with such challenges along with tactical solutions on the same. The root cause of some of the performance problems along with providing guidelines for employees with performance problems on improving his or her performance have been dealt with in Chapter 13. The authors have spent considerable time and energy here and have attempted to create educational experiences for practicing managers in a classroom format.

Majority of the managers these days don’t tend to take a direct interest in the impact of classroom learning on the employees and the business owing to the manifestation of the unaddressed split between learning and working that exists in most organizations. Keeping this in view the last chapter describes the challenges of transferring learning from the classroom to the workplace and provide guidelines on how coaching managers can follow up to help facilitate the transfer of learning. Most companies pay for the classroom training for their employees and strangely do little with it back at the workplace. This book can lead the way in this regard to learn quite a bit about the process.

In sum ‘The Coaching Manager’ Second Edition, presents a coaching methodology that managers can use to guide employees to achieve higher levels of skill, greater engagement with organizations, and promote personal development. Clearly written, specific coaching techniques are illustrated through short case studies and self-assessment exercises that will enable readers apply the principles in their own lives. “Hunt and Weintraub provide detailed insight and advice for developing leadership talent and inspiring performance through an innovative coaching model. The depth of their research and experience with thousands of managers can be of relevance to any business leader interested in developing talent within their organization. This book can serve as a practical reference to effective mentoring in a format that provides quick access to important concepts and techniques of coaching.

© Naqvi Farah (2012), The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business by James M. Hunt and Joseph R. Weintraub. South Asian Journal of Management. Vol. 19. No.1 (Jan – March 2012 issue).

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