If you’re a pro coach, you want to keep your skills sharp. One way to do so is to read up on coaching tools, the business of coaching and the industry itself. Listed in no particular order, here are the top 10 coaching books to read now.
Book #1: Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts and Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith (2015)
While this book is relevant to the individual and provides some great insight on behavior change for leaders, it’s also valuable for organizations.
One highlight is how organizations get a poor return from the estimated $10 billion spent to boost employee engagement. Goldsmith shares how he and his daughter, who has a PhD in behavior marketing, figure that companies stifle engagement by the way they ask questions about it. The solution is to make the questions “active.”
For example, simply asking “Do you have clear goals?” is a passive question. It is about what’s being done “to them” instead of what they are doing for themselves.
Goldsmith also points out that no matter who you are, “Meaningful behavior change is hard to stick to.” A few of the useful points he illustrates in the book are:
- Never underestimate the environment – it shapes our behavior
- Structure and self-monitoring are needed to sustain change
- You can’t do it all at once, so use the Wheel of Change to discover options and eliminate what you can.
- Use the 6 daily questions, like he does! Goldsmith shares how even now, after 35 years as a coach, he still uses this system to help with his own behavior change.
Overall a great book on coaching, especially in the context of executive coaching and coaching within organizations.
Book #2: Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry
by Marcia Reynolds (June 2020)
Coaching is often described as an “asking” approach versus a “telling/teaching/ training” approach. But as Reynolds shares, that’s an oversimplification.
And while that may be true, telling is not coaching: “If people come to depend on you for answers, they lose motivation to learn for themselves.” Reflective inquiry is more than just asking questions. “With reflective inquiry, your job is to catch and reflect what is given to you by the client.”
Furthermore, she explains, “When we tell people what to do, we access their short-term memory in their cognitive brain where learning is least effective.”
When done well, a coaching conversation can open up new possibilities, that is, it makes us aware of things in our blind spots.
This book provides a valuable perspective to all who have “coach” in their professional title, as well as any leader of others who is charged with bringing out the best in people.
If you’re a leader of others, who teaches and trains, Reynolds has this advice:
- “If improvement conversations started with a coaching approach instead of feedback, they would activate creativity instead of defensiveness.” And…
- “If we seek coaching, we are inviting the external interruption that compels us to stop and examine our thinking and behavior. Our brains resist a surprise attack from someone who points out faults in our thinking.”
She sums up coaching this way: “Coaching is a process of inquiry, not a series of questions. The intent of inquiry is to provoke critical thinking to discern gaps in logic, evaluate the value of beliefs and clarify fears, doubts and desires affecting our outlook and behavior.”
A great book for both seasoned and beginner coaches alike!
Book #3: The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients by Steve Chandler, Rich Litvin (2013)
Such an inspiration for any coach who wants to build a high-ticket coaching practice! This book is as much about coaching as it is about the business of coaching.
But not the “business of coaching” in the sense of finding your niche and doing social media marketing – to the contrary. Since the authors are coaches themselves, they use their professional experience to bust some myths on the traditional sense of what selling coaching looks like.
Their position: “learn to love the sales of coaching as much as coaching itself.” And they outline how to do that.
They also describe various levels of coaching from: struggling coach, to part-time coach and pro coach. Some of the action they urge us to:
- make bold proposals,
- move from people-pleasing to powerful service,
- develop a system that works for referrals and new clients
And perhaps most importantly, access a set of tools which you can use immediately to create your own clients.
Overall, a highly recommended read for anyone striving to maintain professional coach level status.
Book #4: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier, Daniel Mate (2016)
Organized by seven types of powerful questions, this is a quick read with some good insight for leaders in organizations. Although the insights on what coaching is and how it differs from “advice giving” is also of note for new coaches.
The seven questions outlined, chapter by chapter, are:
- What’s on your mind? The authors say this question is powerful because it is effective at shifting focus from the problem to the person.
- And what else? A good prompt to get to a deeper discovery. The authors point out that it’s very rare to get to the best answer from the first thing that comes up.
- What’s the real challenge here for you? Again, getting at that deeper reason of what’s keeping someone stuck. It also allows them to focus on one thing.
- What do you want? It’s not so often we get to focus on what we really want. So, asking the question forces you to define the outcome goal.
- How can I help? This serves as a great question for the coach too as it reminds us that we don’t have all the answers and our version of “help” may not be what they are seeking.
- If you’re saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to? Any “essentialist” will enjoy this question! There’s so much adding to our to-do lists, we often forget that it’s effective to eliminate as well. Saying “no” can be a tough thing to do for many people, so asking this question can uncover some powerful growth opportunities.
- What was the most useful to you? An excellent wrap-up question, reveals what the coach can refine in their own practice, and it helps the client end on a positive note.
I’ve recommended this book to leaders and managers in organizations many times as it’s a great way to highlight what coaching actually is and give some practical tools.
Book #5: The Gap and the Gain: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence and Success by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy (2021)
If you’re feeling like you can never get ahead, this book will be a good read for you. It is a simple concept that even the most ambitious and successful of us can learn from.
The concept of “the gap and the gain” was developed by entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan. While working with many successful entrepreneurs he noticed that living in “the gap” was causing a lot of unhappiness especially for highly ambitious people. The “gap” is basically measuring yourself against your ideal goal of where you want to be instead of measuring all the progress you’ve made so far, which represents the “gain.”
The authors discuss the psychological concept of the “hedonic treadmill,” which states that despite positive or negative events in life, our level of happiness fades over time and returns to a baseline. This can be helpful for coaching clients to know when they are waiting to be happy until they hit a certain goal or benchmark.
The overall promise here is to show how measuring your current self vs. your former self has enormous psychological benefits. And when you do so, you’ll be able to better appreciate the progress you are making. For many of their clients it’s a real physical feeling to move from measuring forward against an ideal vs backward to account for progress.
So, how can you measure the gain in whatever happens to you? When you do so you can transform any experience into a gain, according to the authors.
Book #6: Unlocking Potential: 7 Coaching Skills that Transform Individuals, Teams and Organizations by Michael K. Simpson, et al. (2020)
Trust is at an all-time low in society at large these days so exploring the value of it and how to create trust is an important topic. And while the author uses the International Coaching Federation model to describe a “coaching approach,” this book reads much like a management book. So, it may be most helpful for those within an organization.
The 7 key coaching skills that Simpson outlines are drawn from his knowledge and experience as a senior consultant with the management firm FranklinCovey. They include:
- building trust
- challenging paradigms
- seeking strategic clarity
- helping to create a plan for execution
- giving quality feedback
- helping people to recognize and tap into their own talent
- helping the client move to the middle – or improve where they are good, but not yet great.
Coaching is all about shifting the model from management (top-down directives) to the coaching approach (each individual using their maximum potential), and the author seems to agree.
Much of coaching within organizations is about improving productivity, profitability, loyalty and customer focus so it’s not a brand-new concept. However, these topics continue to be critical to success.
Book #7: Humble Inquiry, Second Edition: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling Building Positive Relationships and Better Organizations , by Edgar H. Schein, Peter A. Schein, et al. (2021)
How often do you use the word “should” in conversation? If so, you’re in telling mode. How often do you feel the need to express your knowledge in conversation? If so, you’re telling.
The authors suggest that this pattern of behavior is all-too common since we live in a “culture of telling.”
Truth has become a matter of debate, they say, so we often feel the need to lecture others on our position. As a society, we value showing off what we know and winning arguments and being right.
The challenge with this is that the way to build relationships is not by telling but rather, by asking.
They define “humble inquiry” as an art. A way of being curious and open. It’s an attitude. It’s more than simply asking questions, it’s about listening more deeply, responding appropriately and revealing more of ourselves. It’s the way to build relationships.
Asking questions has become even more important with our world becoming smaller through digital communication. We may have colleagues with international communities so we have to be curious and invite what we don’t know about diverse backgrounds and values in order to work toward a common goal successfully.
Humble inquiry is the best way to find out what is really going on and can help you make sense of complex situations you can’t understand solely on your own.
A good book for leaders and managers who may have had to rely heavily on doing it all on their own through most of their career but now need to leverage the talent of a team.
Book #8: The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs by Marcia Reynolds (2014)
A discomfort zone conversation can help us uncover the truth about our future or make a profound change to our lives. It can help us find a new solution to a problem, Reynolds says.
For instance, to reveal how this type of conversation can be used, the author paints a picture of this scenario:
- Imagine you’re in a conversation with someone who feels stuck, is resisting change, or who continues to circle back to the problem and needs a perspective shift. That scenario is exactly where many coaches find in their clients!
Having this type of conversation can be challenging to learn because it’s about first ensuring trust and then allowing the other person to be vulnerable. As Reynolds points out, it’s when we are vulnerable that radical growth happens.
For the organizational setting, discomfort zone conversation is exactly what is needed to engage and retain top talent by helping to raise awareness and challenge people.
As a leader, you are often tasked with changing people’s minds. In coaching we know that people don’t argue with their own data. So rather than simply tell them what to do, which may create resistance, learn how to navigate a discomfort zone conversation. It can help create persuasion from within the other person.
Book #9: The HeART of Laser-Focused Coaching: A Revolutionary Approach to Masterful Coaching by Marion Franklin (2019)
Known as the Coach’s Coach, Franklin has been training and mentoring coaches for more than 20 years. In this book she shares ways to create transformational coaching experiences for clients in an accelerated way.
She writes, “Just as stories have themes, so does coaching.” These themes show up in the client’s belief systems about their life, challenges and desires.
Each coaching conversation has at least one theme. And as a coach, if you can stay out of the nitty-gritty details and recognize the themes of the client’s story, you can help them get to the heart of the matter and permanently transform their thinking.
“The most powerful coaches move quickly beyond stories and delve into themes.” In the book she offers 25 common themes that appear in most coaching conversations as well as tips to make it easy to identify them.
She advises coaches to make a “theme cheat sheet” to help you identify themes quickly and easily, for your client’s benefit. Click here to download one we have created for you.
It takes skill to bypass the plot of a client’s story but it’s crucial to the progress of the client to do so. Thinking in themes helps coaches avoid taking copious notes, helps to develop a better way of asking questions, and gets to the essence of what the client needs in an efficient and effective way.
Doing so can help save both the coach and the client time and ensure maximum effectiveness in coaching conversations.
This book shares a “2-inquiry approach” which promises to deepen your curiosity as a coach to boost both your coaching confidence and the results of your clients.
Book #10: Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition: The proven framework for transformative conversations at work and in life by Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandhal (2018)
At its core, coaching is about a transformative communication process. As the authors of this book point out, coaching skills include: deep listening, shared commitment and empowered learning. All three of which are essential for effective organizations.
Written by the founders of the Co-Active Training Institute, this book includes the history, expertise and understanding of what coaching is and is not.
In this updated version, the authors note their observations since the first edition. What is happening in organizations is what’s happening in global culture, that is, the structure of organizations is moving from hierarchical to flattened.
Because of this, they note that the “Co-active” title is more important than ever. Why? Because organizations now know that effective performance depends on effective relationships. And it is effective conversations that move a business forward.
This book is aimed at leaders, managers and other business professionals’ a practical guide for embracing coaching as a core competency for greater workplace engagement.
What stands out is how coaching itself has moved beyond individual focus of habit-changing life skills to a skill known to be a critical part of successful leadership.
It also serves as a helpful toolkit with some 35 exercises, questionnaires and checklists. Great resources for coaches to make principles and techniques useful.
There you have it! The list of the top 10 coaching books to read now. As a pro coach, which will you choose to read next?