This is the fourth edition of this seminal text on coaching (primarily) in the business environment, although it's the first that I, a coaching novice, have read. I have to rely on the author's explanation of the differences to the previous edition, which will be of interest to those many who have already read it - some 500,000 copies have already been sold, published in over 20 languages. He has added chapters on the relationship between coaching and leadership, explored the significance of emotional and spiritual intelligence and their relationship to coaching, and has added material on values in work, in particular their importance to Generation Y. The book is certainly up to date at the superficial level, with multiple references to the credit crunch and growing concerns for the environment. He concludes with a new chapter on the future of coaching; he thinks (unsurprisingly) it has a very significant one, with an expansion into new areas, for example, the use of coaching rather than purely instructional techniques when training, or perhaps that should be developing, people to become car drivers.
Whitmore, a racing car driver in the 1960s, was trained by Tim Gallwey, of "Inner Game" fame (see, e.g., The Inner Game of Tennis, published originally in 1975) and then set up Inner Game Ltd in the UK. He clearly regards Gallwey as one of his own great inspirations, and that brand of psychology, the transpersonal, which underlies the Inner Game, as being the most important for coaches. Whitmore is best known for the GROW model, standing for Goal, Reality, Options and What/Will. He spends some time explaining why setting goals should precede checking reality, and I do wonder, sometimes, whether the use of this sort of catchy acronyms hinders as much as it helps. Notwithstanding this slight caveat, Part 1 of the book, ten chapters, is devoted to the principles of coaching and a detailed explanation of the GROW model, and it is presented in a clear, simple and understandable way.
Part 2 of the book, a further nine chapters, covers the practice of coaching, and this sections does go a long way to explaining how to be a coach. I don't think that Sir John intends this book as a "teach yourself coaching", however, and it is probably better seen as a textbook for a coaching course or as additional material for already experienced coaches. In Part 3 Whitmore explores leadership in three chapters, and in the final three chapters of Part 4 he focuses on transpersonal coaching and the future of coaching.
I am sure that this is a must-have book for those involved in coaching, including, although it is not my interest, sports coaches. It is well written and easy to read, and I know, having read it through once, that it will bear much re-reading and further analysis. It is a well published and printed book, too, in a large paperback format with plenty of space for marginal notes. (I don't like it when publishers use glossy paper for textbooks, because it makes it harder to write marginal notes without them smudging. I do wonder, however, whether a slightly higher quality of paper might have been used for this one.) If I have any criticism of what Sir John has written, and as someone studying coaching for the first time it is rather presumptuous of me, I know, it is that he implies that coaching can and should entirely replace mere teaching or instruction. While I agree that taught classes, especially in business skill areas, often fail to effect much change, let alone improvement, when people return to the day job, there are nevertheless many areas in which "conventional" training still has a place. It is, where it works, for example with a class of eager and already motivated students, a much less expensive proposition, for a start. Perhaps I am simply betraying the limitations of my own background, and shall overcome these in due course!