12 Books NOT About Coaching That Coaches Need to Know About

March 28, 2017 Madeleine Homan Blanchard

I went out to my network and asked people what books, not about coaching, have made the biggest difference for them as a coach.

I was surprised at how few responses I got on this particular question—because I have so many on my list.

This possibly could be because I started coaching before there were any books about coaching. So I turned to other disciplines for guidance.

The Career Counselor’s Handbook by Howard Figler and Richard N. Bolles.

JoAnne Maynard, PCC, Blanchard staff coach, says: “There is so much great coaching advice in this book, which is not a coaching book, that it surprised me.  Neither author is technically a coach, but they present many key principals coaches can use.”

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon.

Renee Freedman, MCC, former director of the SupporTED Coaching Program, offers: “This is a lovely book about our emotional system and how we connect with others—recognition, resonance, and revision. It is a great book for people who want to build relationships and intimacy or to understand chemistry.”

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.

This is the surprising suggestion from Tony Klingmeyer, MCC, executive coach and past president ICF–GA.   Tony says this book “inspires about the lengths one must travel to be masterful at one’s art or craft.”

Several folks volunteered that the Bible had made a significant impact on their coaching, in that so many of the teachings seem to represent universal laws, such as ask and you shall receive.

The books that have made the biggest difference for me are these:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Several other people chose this book as well.  Renee Freedman said “I cannot imagine coaching without this book as a referral to my clients. It’s so great for so many things—self care, exploration, creativity, a process for transformation and transition, inner awareness and connection.”  I agree.  I have lost count of how many times I have recommended Julia Cameron’s practices to clients who need to reconnect with their creative selves.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Csikszentmihalyi (whose name is pronounced Me-high Chick-sent-me-high in case you were wondering—and now you can impress your friends) is known as one of the pioneers of positive psychology and has written many books worth checking out. This was an early entrant to the conversation about what we now think of “getting into the zone.”   It is not a mass-market read, but if you are interested in the science of optimal productivity this could be for you.

Creating Minds by Howard Gardner.

This was my introduction to Gardner’s work, and to be fair, my first coaching company was devoted to creative geniuses.  However, I would submit that anyone who is chasing a dream is a creative force.  This work examines the lives of brilliant innovators who essentially created entirely new domains or art forms—Picasso, Freud, Stravinsky, Einstein, Graham, and others—looking for common threads.  Gardner noted what he called the ten-year rule (which pre-dated Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours hypothesis [http://gladwell.com/outliers/the-10000-hour-rule/]), evidenced by most true innovators spending ten years mastering their domain before breaking through to a completely revolutionary new one.   Gardner has also researched and written extensively on multiple intelligences, which is extremely useful for coaches who need to ask not if the client is smart, but how the client is smart.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Coaches often collect and share what one might think of as universal laws, and this book offers some of these based on ancient Toltec wisdom. The agreements are: Be Impeccable with Your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions  and  Always Do Your Best. Don’t let this keep you from the book, because there is a lot more to offer than just the agreements. But I mean, seriously, how can anyone go wrong adopting these rules?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Okay, I know, it is hokey as all get out.  But I was so moved by it that I gave it to all of my clients for the holidays in 1990.  It is simply a fable about a young man following his dream, and his classic hero’s journey.  It is a fun and easy read for those who don’t like to read.  People who decide to work with a coach do it because they have a dream that they are not moving toward for various and sundry reasons, all of which show up in the story.  There is plenty of inspiration here.

Leadership and The New Science by Meg Wheatley.

About 23 years ago, I asked my new friend Alexander Caillet, who is now the CEO of Corentus [http://www.corentus.com/founder/ ], what one book he thought I should read and this was it. It absolutely rocked my world for a host of different reasons, but mainly for helping me understand that chaos is essential before order can be achieved.   Wheatley was one of the first to borrow ideas drawn from quantum physics, chaos theory, and molecular biology and apply them to leadership and organizational strategy.  It was revolutionary at the time, and pretty much still is.

The Four Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary by Angeles Arrien.

Arrien researched leaders and change agents in indigenous cultures and found that despite radical differences in culture and customs, they all did four things in common.  This alone is worth the price of the book.  However, she also provides some excellent ideas on how to develop oneself if one identifies with any of the roles in the title.  I have lost count of how many times I have bought this book and given it away.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman.

It is one of minor tragedies of my life that I just don’t have the right brain to do physics, because I absolutely love physics.  But Richard Feynman is a genius who can discuss physics in a way that people like me can actually understand, and along the way address fascinating topics like creativity and even thinking itself.  The sheer beauty of the way he is able to get to simplicity on the other side of complexity is spellbinding.

A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilbur.

Ken Wilbur is not for everyone. He is a true philosopher who has spent his entire life thinking about how things really work.  He has created elegant models that visually represent all of his logic. His work is guaranteed to expand and broaden your thinking and make it more likely that, as a coach, you will be able to understand pretty much anyone you work with.

That’s my list. What’s on your bookshelf?  Please add books you’d recommend in the comments section below!


About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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