“Coaching for Performance” by John Whitmore


Coaching for Performance is the grandfather of coaching books and coaching approaches. Thousands of high performing organizations have tapped into its wisdom.

Much of what has come to be known as professional business coaching came from Timothy Gallway and Whitmore’s sports training techniques. As such, the book provides a simple foundation for coaching based on the context of awareness and responsibility through asking questions and listening. He presents the G R O W model of coaching – Goal, Reality, Option, Will – as a format for coaching sessions.

The book begins with a few foundational beliefs of coaches. Unlike old models of management that work from the “carrot and stick” approach, a coach believes in the potential of the client.

Whitmore believes that people are only able to change only that which they are aware. Responsibility must stay with the client if they are to perform. Questions raise awareness and yet maintain the client’s responsibility. If the coach tells the coachee something, awareness may increase slightly, but responsibility in now in the hands of the coach, the source of the information. Questions cause the client to pay attention to their actions, think at higher levels, and provide feedback for the coach to work from.

The G R O W model provides a sequence of questioning and for the coaching session. A coach starts with the client’s goal. Either an end goal, like “retire at age 45,” or a performance goal, such as “write a new training manual by December.” After further clarifying the goal the coach can move on to the current reality of the situation. Asking such questions as:

  • What have you done on the manual up to now?
  • What are the needs that you think a manual might help?
  • What has kept you from finishing the manual these past two years?

Options are then generated from the client as to how they can achieve their goal. Finally, What will you do? Whitmore builds several checks and balances into this last step to ensure performance.

The final sections of the book are new territory in the 4th edition. Coaching used to be about performance – doing and achievement. In the past few years coaching has moved to underlying motivations of personal fulfillment – the “why” underneath the desire to achieve performance goals. Whitmore includes new chapters on coaching for purpose, getting to life’s meaning.

Of the three dozen books on coaching that I own, this one has consistently been the book I recommend to those trying to grasp the foundational concepts of coaching.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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