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Recommended Business Coaching Books

Table, chairs and a blue sky

Here’s a selection of books I regularly recommend to managers who want to develop their skills as coaches for their teams.

Coaching for Performance – John Whitmore

A classic book, by former racing car champion Sir John Whitmore. With Timothy Gallwey (see below) he formed Inner Game Ltd, which introduced principles from their sports coaching into the business arena. Whitmore emphasizes the facilitative nature of coaching in this excellent definition:

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

He goes on to show how the real value of coaching skills such as listening, asking questions and giving nonjudgmental feedback is in enabling coachees to develop their awareness and responsibility through decisions and action. The book also introduces the GROW model, which is now a widely adopted framework for coaching in business.

Solution-Focused Coaching: Managing People in a complex world – Jane Greene and Anthony M. Grant

An excellent introduction to coaching, and one of the few coaching books that acknowledges the influence of Solution-Focused Brief Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson on coaching. Another distinctive feature of the book is the way it highlights the importance of coaching in a knowledge economy – ‘a world where ideas and power lie in ideas, imagination, knowledge and the information you control’. The breadth and depth of the authors’ knowledge is impressive, but they wear their learning lightly – the books is clearly written, with lots of practical advice and concrete examples. The design is quite funky too. All of which makes this one of my favourite coaching books, one I can keep returning to for inspiration.

The Inner Game of Tennis – Timothy Gallwey

Another coaching classic, and another book written by a sportsman-turned-business-coach. Tim Gallwey writes that he has been obsessed with the ‘inner game’ of sports performance ever since he missed an easy chance to win a high-stakes competitive tennis match.

This book offers a fascinating account of his experience of coaching tennis players to overcome the mental obstacles to success. He describes human beings as divided into ‘Self 1’ (rational, controlling, judging) and Self 2 (spontaneous, present, instinctive). Left to its own devices, Self 2 can learn easily and reach peak performance – but Self 1 typically interferes, making the player tense up by trying too hard and judging his/her own performance instead of focusing on the ball.

What has this got to do with creative work? Well Gallwey wrote the book for tennis pros, not creative pros – but anyone who has experienced the ‘almost automatic, effortless’ state of creative flow should have no problem relating to Gallwey’s Self 2 and adopting some of the principles of the Inner Game approach.

In Gallwey’s later book The Inner Game of Work he explains how the Inner Game principles apply to the world of business and management. This is another good book, which I also recommend, but for me Gallwey’s approach to tennis resonates as a powerful analogy for all kinds of work, even though I don’t play tennis. Maybe it’s because in sport the goals, rules and outcomes are so sharply defined that it makes the issues crystal clear and memorable. So I recommend you read The Inner Game of Tennis first.

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey – Ken Blanchard, William Oncken Jr and Hal Burrows


If you feel overwhelmed by managerial responsibility and feel as though nothing will get done unless you supervise it personally, I highly recommend this book – I’ve lost count of the number of managers who have told me it has removed a huge amount of stress from their lives.

One of several sequels to The One Minute Manager, this excellent book has two main virtues: 1. It’s short – 130 large-type pages. 2. It makes a powerful idea very memorable and easy to apply in practice.

The Monkey is the responsibility for the next move on any given task. As a manager, you are accountable for everything, so it’s only human nature to want to take responsibility for everything people are doing in your team – i.e. to ‘pick up the Monkey’ and start making decisions for them and telling them what to do. Unfortunately you are not superhuman, so you can’t do everything. You have plenty of Monkeys of your own, without trying to deal with other people’s. And when you take away people’s capacity to decide for themselves, you’re likely to demotivate them and/or train them to depend on you for everything.

This book does an excellent job of showing how you can reverse this cycle, empower your people by delegating tasks and decisions – and ‘insure’ yourself and your team members against failure.

Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do – and What to Do About It – by Ferdinand Fournies

If you are a manager trying to deal with ‘difficult’ people in your team, this book is for you. I’ve never worked with a group of managers who didn’t become very animated when I asked them Fournies’ question ‘Why don’t people do what they’re supposed to do?’.

Unfortunately, most of the ‘obvious’ answers to the question – ‘because they’re difficult, lazy, stupid, prima donnas’ etc. – actually make your problem worse. After all, if someone is plain lazy, what can you do about it? Probably not much.

Fortunately, as Fournies points out, to be an effective manager you don’t need to rebuild their personality – just influence their behaviour. To help you do this, he gives 16 answers to the question that actually give you practical options for solving the problem.

Some of my favourites are ‘They think they are doing it, ‘They think their way is better’ and ‘They are rewarded for not doing it’. This is fairly typical of Fournies’ direct and prescriptive writing style, which some people find annoying. Personally I find it entertaining, and he’s got the ideas to back it up. This is a book that has saved me a lot of frustration – hopefully it will do the same for you.

Coaching and Mentoring: practical methods to improve learning – Eric Parsloe and Monika Wray

A book that gives an excellent overview of the coaching profession and methods, as well as practical advice on core skills, especially feedback, listening and questioning.

It begins with a survey of the origins of coaching – in sports, psychotherapy, academia and the corporate world, and situates coaching as an essential catalyst for the learning organisation, which in turn is key to success in a knowledge economy.

The book then introduces the main styles, models and theories of coaching, before giving practical advice on three core coaching skills – giving feedback, observational listening and asking questions.

I particularly like the final sections of the book, where Parsloe and Wray emphasise the value of simplicity in coaching: ‘Success comes from doing simple things consistently’. Simple things like ‘make sure you meet’, ‘keep it brief’ and ‘ask don’t tell’.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently – Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Not strictly a coaching book, but I’m including it as it’s a thought-provoking and useful read for managers who want to raise their team’s performance through coaching. It is also based on a key coaching principle – find out what works well and build on it.

Buckingham and Coffman did this via their research with Gallup, which focused on the questions ‘What do the most talented employees need from the workplace?‘ and ‘How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus and keep talented employees?‘. This led them to for key principles for facilitating outstanding performance:

  1. Select for talent – instead of hiring people on the usual basis of experience, brainpower or willpower, find people who have a talent for the specific kind of tasks the role requires.
  2. Define the right outcomes – and let people find their own way to achieve them.
  3. Focus on strengths – give people every opportunity to excel at things they are already good at, and don’t waste time trying to fix all their weaknesses.
  4. Find the right fit – don’t blindly assume that career advancement = moving into a managerial role, whether or not people are suited or attracted to it. If someone has the talent and inclination to manage others, give them the opportunity, but if they have different skills and preferences, give them opportunities to advance their career without having to move into a ‘hands off’ managerial role.