Pivoting – a coach’s guide to igniting substantial change: Ann L. Clancy & Jacqueline Binkert (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017)
As I worked my way through this book, I felt a growing sense of having embarked on a rich journey of discovery. It did not meet with my presupposition that it was going to be a ‘how to’ manual on artful coaching. Yes, it plays the role of a powerful and practical guide on improving one’s coaching skills: however, there is so much more! It takes the reader into a teeming psychological landscape of phenomena that affect coaches, coachees and coaching. It provides some explanation for what might be going on during a coaching engagement and helps the coach to understand what might be playing out ‘behind the scenes’.
It explores issues arising from emotions, cognition, the interaction of body and mind; and much more. It is not for the fainthearted.
Having said that, Clancy and Binkert do a great job of making the material as accessible as possible and they punctuate the text with some useful personal anecdotes that bring the content alive. Indeed, Jonathan Passmore’s Foreword describes the book as a “highly readable resource for both experienced and novice coaches”.
The key thread to the work is the idea that each coaching experience normally provides a pivotal moment – a point where the coachee comes to a new realisation that changes them in some way. Approaching this from a generative slant (embracing learning, growth, compassion and exploration), the authors describe their appreciative coaching style. Appreciative coaching builds on inner processes as the key to substantive change, making a link to Otto Sharmer’s work on Theory U and to a shift from habit to emergence.
The first part of the book explores the so-called ‘aha moment’ phenomenon which leads to a pivot-point in coaching: there follows a discussion on the mechanics and processes of insight and intuition. The definitions of insight explored by the authors (p21) give the clue about how they will be guiding us through their book: from a blend of academic rigour and rich example. These authors see insight as a progression from reflection and impasse, to sudden awareness and an inability to explain cognitively where the ‘aha moment’ came from. They make much of the importance of the impasse which precedes a flash of insight, since arriving at the impasse normally involves an associative process, and the point of insight is felt physically, emotionally, cognitively and - sometimes - spiritually. The focus on insight, intuition and appreciative coaching brings to mind the current discussions about positive deviance and its capacity to drive substantial change (see https://youtu.be/n-NAvN-PLW0).
Having tried to make sense of the process and incidence of ‘aha moments’, the authors move into the body of their work – accessing the inner self - with a review and exploration of emotional contexts (with a strong focus on the value of positive emotions) and the power of the sensory effect of discovery. They also consider the importance of belief systems and their role in an individual’s self-organising capacity and the influence of the concept of social connectedness. A chapter follows on the topic of knowing, which refers to the related drivers of tacit knowledge, instinct, creative intuition, social intuition and empathy. Clancy and Binkert refer regularly to the impact of social factors on cognition and behaviour, quoting – for example – social psychologists Lieberman, Fazio and Steele to emphasise the importance they place on the influence of the thinking, influence and expectations of others.
This is followed by a discussion on memory (the ‘crucial lynchpin between beliefs and ways of knowing’): the authors hold great store by the assertion that memory is not ‘fixed’; it is shaped by experience and we apparently continually review and update memories in the light of subsequent events. This is, to an extent, a reference to ‘unlearning’ and to the conscious competence model often used in L&D programmes.
The three-cornered model described by the authors for self-organising - of beliefs and context, awareness and knowing, and memory – helps to explain the emergence of present-moment pivots; points in time where coachees have an ‘aha moment’ and see an issue through a kaleidoscope (rather than from the wrong end of a telescope). The final section of the book describes a little of how the authors have put their learning to good practice. It concludes with a refresh on the nature of insight; a fitting concluding discussions since the book itself is insightful.
It is an absorbing and challenging read for those interested in some of the mechanics and mysteries of coaching and change. It appears that Clancy and Binkert have done some comprehensive research into a subject that clearly intrigues and excites them. For those who enjoy their learning from an academic perspective, this is a great read! Finally, the authors – describing coaching as “helping clients to express new thoughts, feelings and actions that lead to desired results” – have produced a thought-provoking, well-researched and practical volume which should accompany those who are serious about understanding coaching and delivering the best possible coaching experience.
Reviewer’s rating: 5 out of 5