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Coaching for Performance - Sir John Whitmore

Forton Group, LeadershipZone, Book Review, coaching for performanceCoaching for Performance is now in its 4th edition (in English) and this feels like a good time to look at Sir John Whitmore’s achievements with fresh eyes.

Whitmore is clear that, for him, coaching is more than a skill or a technique for individual and team development. It’s invaluable for task performance, motivation and delegation and can be deployed as effectively for quick management interactions as it can in a half hour coaching session.  


Hear Sir John Whitmore talking about coaching for performance

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He was one of the first people to make the claim that coaching is a powerful tool for developing leadership and employee performance beyond the typical skill and motivational approaches to professional development.

Over the years we’ve seen that coaching delivers what Whitmore calls a “practical, common sense approaches to developing people and services, A powerful way of creating excellent results.”

As well as placing people at the top of the agenda in action not just in word, Whitmore sees coaching as an essential management style of the high performing company culture.

Whitmore created the world-famous ‘GROW’ model -

  • GOAL setting for the session as well as short and long term
  • REALITY checking to explore the current situation
  • OPTIONS and alternative strategies of courses of action
  • WHAT to be done, plus -
    • WHEN
    • By WHOM
    • And the WILL to do it

From my perspective, there are some key differences today – which lead me to question this approach

  1. The shift from leaders and managers telling others what to do – towards everyone taking self-responsibility has still not happened.  Particularly that predicted shift from ‘Command and Control’ leadership to ‘Distributed’ Leadership.
  2. Yes some leaders and managers are shifting towards a more coach-like style of leadership and staff – especially those who are better educated than their own bosses - expect their opinions and expertise is taken into account.
  3. We’ve also seen that the world is changing – towards a much more complex, fast-paced, dynamic change in the workplace – than any of the management gurus predicted.
  4. The good news is that professional coaching – itself a fast-growing profession – is now bounded by a set of ethics and competences, and international accreditation standards. 

I'm not trying to contradict, or criticise, what Whitmore is saying.  The fourth edition has acknowledged this shift in emphasis towards leadership – Whitmore says that “Leaders will need far more inner strength, maturity and wisdom which comes from deep personal development work as opposed to the externalities supplied by academic business schools.”

“Leadership will be spread far and wide throughout organisations in future, so there will be far more people in leadership functions and less dependence on an autocrat at the top.”

“From that position we then consider in depth how leaders at every level can develop these deeper qualities such as vision, values, authenticity, agility and alignment with a greater purpose.”

The challenge for Whitmore is that the GROW model doesn’t encompass these qualities.  Now Whitmore himself is on record as stating that he didn’t set out to create ‘GROW’ as his coaching model.  It was simply a mnemonic for the chronological steps in his version of the coaching conversation.

Yet as David Clutterbuck, another author on the topic of coaching has said, “we’ve outgrown GROW”.  The question is – what might replace it?

Now, I have to put my interests clearly on the table in this domain – as the Forton Group’s Professional Leadership Coaching model does explicitly bring vision, values and leadership authenticity front and centre into the coaching conversation. 

So it’s only reasonable to leave readers to make up their minds. 

Today’s achievements in coaching are only reached by standing on the shoulders of giants – and Sir John Whitmore is certainly one of those.  So I’m happy to promote the reading of this book, in support of understanding and educating about coaching, and particularly in acknowledgement of the foundational work of Whitmore and his colleagues in the field of personalised learning.


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