Book Review from Daniel White’s Coaching Leaders


            A wise person learns from experience; a much wiser person learns from someone else’s experience!

With these words White opens his book Coaching Leaders. I think there is a great wisdom behind that sentence. This is also the reason why I continuously read and write. I also hope all of you who are reading this book review can learn from my and White’s experiences.

Making change is difficult. This is something we all know. White provides one perspective how behaviors can be changed. Reading this book help coaches to understand behavioral change from the mental model perspective. White’s coaching process is a process to change mental model. This book aims to give tools for coaches to help clients to change their behavior. The book is about coaching leaders, which is the context of the examples. Despite that the book is discussing making change in the leadership context the ideas of the book can be applied to any situation where behavior needs to be changed. All coaches who are dealing with clients who want to change their behavior can put to account by reading this book.

White nicely combines theory and practice, which makes this book nice to read, but also informative. Theory of behavioral change combined to change process and coaching skills make the information of the book valuable. The book helps to understand change and at the same time also gives tools how to do the change in practice, which makes it a great book to read.

When I started reading White’s book I set a couple of questions to myself just to guide my thinking through this learning experience. First question was about learning. Always after each reading session I asked from myself what did I learn. However, I’m not writing the book review only to my own learning, but help others to learn. This generated my next questions ‘who would benefit from this information’. The last question is for helping me to find the things which makes the book good. Why it was good. These three questions guided my reading, making notes and in the end also to write this book review.

This book review is structured followingly. Next comes my evaluation of the book which discusses what was good and what was not. After evaluation comes summary of the book. In the summary part I summarize the book and highlight the most important topics for me. However, I have also included some of my own thinking which came from answering my guiding questions. The review ends to some closing words.


In general, I think this book is worth to read and money and time invested in studying it pays off. This book is written for coaches and I could recommend it to all coaches who are not familiar with behavioral change.

The book nicely combines theory and practice. First White’s discusses the theory of behavioral change from mental model perspective and then he puts it in the form of behavioral change process. I think there was a small disconnection between the theory and practice. By this I mean that reader would be fine without reading the theory of mental models and just concentrating to study the change process. However, I think that studying the mental models can help coaches in their work. White complements his story with real life coaching examples which made the book more interesting and fun to read.

In bigger picture where coaching is seen as helping clients to develop, learn and get things done. Topics of coaching can be related to behavioral change, skills, competencies, performance, thinking / attitude or something else. In this context, this book gives tools to behavioral change area. For coach who has his GROW model this book gives additional tools related to the coaching process of behavioral change. Here we come in to the question how much should coach influence the process and discussions, but it is not in scope of this book review. At this point we just say that coach is responsible of the process.

The book is divided into three parts. First part is nice to know information about leadership and builds the context for the book. First part is not compulsory to read to understand the core message of the book. Second part of the book is the beef. For those who just want to get the knowledge related to behavioral change is enough to read the part two. Third part is also nice to read material from White’s own experiences in format of coaching themes. Like I said nice to read but not necessary considering the behavioral change.

What is the book about?

The book is divided into three parts. First part discusses about what is leadership and why coach leaders and why it matters. Second part is about coaching from behavioral change perspective. Third part discusses coaching themes and applications. First part generates the motivation, second part shares the beef and third part adds some nice flavor with the great examples.

            Part one ‘On Leaders and Leadership’

White described leadership through following 15 practices. White elaborates each practice with couple of pages giving nice coaching examples. Just to remember this list is only White’s views in Leadership which covers general areas well. However, what I was looking for was the financial side of being a leader. From my own experience being leader can be all those 15 practices tight coupled with financial reality.

  1. Framing a vision, mission, and strategy, it is about the situation and content
  2. Developing and Managing Through Systems, is about leading through systems and structures.
  3. Setting and Agreeing on Expectations, is about setting priorities expectations and goals
  4. Delegating Work and Delegation, is about delegating thins and decision making
  5. Communicating, share the information for people to make good decisions.
  6. Influencing, getting support and convincing others
  7. Providing and Seeking Feedback, informing how people are doing
  8. Recognizing and Rewarding, is about giving right kind of reward for people not only monetary
  9. Building Teams, is about building teams
  10. Developing People, provide opportunities to develop
  11. Building and Maintaining Relationships, working together
  12. Recruiting Talent, is about getting the RIGHT people
  13. Problem solving and Decision Making, making choices and finding solutions
  14. Using Political Savvy, understanding and dealing with political situation
  15. Creating Meaning, connection between work and personal values

In the first part of the book White also discusses content focus of leadership and leadership dialectics. Content focus is about understanding that as a leader you are responsible and need to act to upward, sideways and downward. For each way, there are different topics which are important. When connecting upward vision, mission and strategy are the discussion topics. To sideways focus is in interdepartmental interfaces and external supply chains. To downward focus is in work processes, quality and efficiency. I find this a little simplistic view. I see it a little differently. I think there are streams of discussions which are upward, downward, and sideways. For example, strategy can flow from top to bottom and back to bottom. Good leaders need to handle this flow of discussion.

White ends part one by introducing a couple of new leadership practices. White makes distinction between leadership practice and opposite leadership practice. One example is that appreciating performance makes people feel good. Opposite for that is stretching makes people develop. The main idea of the dialectics chapter was to understand that leadership practices are bind to the current environment and situation.

            Part two ‘The Practice of Coaching’

Nature of coaching, White describes what kind of relationship coach and client should have to make coaching work. Enough close to make the environment safe, but still enough different to interrupt clients normal thinking. Coach creates complete picture of client.

 Coaching Roles
  1. Acting as a mirror, coach listens and helps client to understand his own thinking
  2. Creative guide is about helping client to explore new alternatives and create new ideas and thoughts
  3. Teacher, coach has collected knowledge and experience in particular topic and can share this knowledge with the client.
  4. Thinking partner is about concentrating on coachee’s thoughts
  5. Practice partner is about practice
  6. Political-consultant is about thinking about the political topics and how to play the game

In very basic form of coaching coach’s only input to discussion are the questions. As we see here White’s thinks that coach can have many roles during the coaching process. For coach, it Is important to understand what role he/she takes. If we compare coaching roles to GROW model. If coach uses GROW model he first act as a mirror then the role changes between thought partner and creative guide. Teacher and political consultant seems to me that are not related to GROW model.

Behavioral Change

White bases his idea of changing behavior to theory of changing mental models. Phases to change mental models become the phases to changing behavior. Changing mental models start from envisioning future state and ends in modeling new practice and behavior. Below the list of phases to change mental models.

  1. Envision new behavior with desirable consequences.:
  2. Contemplate a new mental model to support the new behavior
  3. Reinforce the new mental model by connecting it to congruent beliefs and values.
  4. Identify situations in which to employ the new behavior and mental model.
  5. Develop reminders to block the old mental model and employ the new one.
  6. Build awareness of the old mental models underlying key behaviors
  7. Model, experiment, and practice new behaviors
  8. Build and implement a real word plan

After introducing how mental models are changed White introduces studies from Prochaska et al. who studied more than thousand people who successfully changed their habits or behavior. Prochaska et al. introduced a six steps model to behavioral change which White has simplified to five steps. Steps of the change process are presented below

 Phases of Behavioral Change
  1. Precontemplation: this phase is the denial phase. In this phase, the coach needs to make the client to watch the mirror to understand the real situation.
  2. Contemplation: This is the phase, when coach and client starts to build understanding of the situation. In this phase client builds understanding of what should be done.
  3. Preparation: As is says together with the coach client start to prepare for the action. One good way to prepare is to rehearsal the situation where the need behavior is needed.
  4. Action: When client is ready to action then coach and client agree the situations were new behavior is taken in to practice
  5. Maintenance and termination: To make new behavior alive it takes lot of repetition and practice. Remember it won’t happen overnight

Knowing and understanding the mental models give more insight to the change process, but coach can succeed well without remembering them. I think the benefit of knowing the phases to change mental models and phases of behavior change helps coach to understand what is coming and what it takes to make the change. White warns quite early in the book that new coaches tend to rush to action, because they don’t know the process. Coaches can leverage the knowledge of phases by studying and creating powerful questions for each phase.


            What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared what lies within us – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-knowledge is the key to make the change. If one wants to make the change first one needs to know who he is. For those who are familiar with Aki Hintsa and his methodology can see the connection to core. In Brief Aki Hintsa thinks that first thing to understand is to know yourself. This is where the journey starts. Main point of the chapter is to understand that Set of Values, Set of Beliefs and EMOTIONS influence our behavior. Beliefs and emotions influence directly to behavior and values influence our thinking which influence behavior. For a coach, it is important to create awareness to values, but not try to change them. Coach also should try to help client to understand the origins of the beliefs.

To approach values, beliefs and emotions start observing client’s behavior, because this is the easiest to observe. Then move to observe thinking and then to values and beliefs.

Motives for Change

Two key takeaways from the book are that setting good goals can help client to motivate from the change and people get motivated from different things. Coach can help client to understand what motivates her. After finding out the things that motivates client coach can help client to define good goals. For White a good goal is one that motivates client.

Steps in the Coaching Process

Six steps of the coaching process help to understand what it takes to make change. Steps of the process are the following:

  1. Entering the environment and Contracting (week 1)
    1. Getting things started
  2. Building Rapport and planning the development (week 2)
    1. Giving power to the client
  3. Assessment (Week 3-4)
    1. Bringing new information to client using interviews and surveys
    2. One popular method is the 360 reviews
  4. Determining behavior change goals (week 5)
  5. Preparing for change (Month 2)
  6. Action and maintenance (Month 3-6)

For me understanding the process helps to reflect what is happening in my own coaching sessions. I have the feeling that we are always moving too quickly to actions. One good idea would be to have a client and explain the process and then go along the process and see how things evolve from this.

Coaching Skills and Techniques

            In conversations, ask questions more often than you express opinion; when you speak offer data and information rather than beliefs and judgements – Will Durant

White lists 8 coaching skills questioning, listening, focusing on behavior, identifying alternative ways, reframing (also leadership skill), teaching, reading personality and practice new behavior. Questioning was mentioned under title ‘The Art of Questioning’ which I think is the most important skill for coach. White proposed a map to define which questions to ask in what phase. Based on the map I would say that this is focusing on behavior change. Might be useful tool, at least worth of experimenting.

Pyramid model to choose questions when coaching behavior change

  • Top of the pyramid: Current behavior
  • One step down: Thoughts and feelings underlying current behavior
  • Two steps from the top: Impact of current behavior (on self and others)
  • Three steps down from the top: Alternative and desired impact
  • Four steps down from the top: Alternative thoughts and feelings
  • Bottom of the pyramid: Alternative behavior

I was thinking how to apply this to real life coaching. My idea is that coach can use GROW model in the beginning. Then when it turns out that the real question is behavior change, coach can start focusing on current behavior and then starting to go through the steps. This will help coach in couple of ways. Give understand how change happens, provide a road map for coaching process. I think that each of the topic can take one or more coaching sessions. This means that not all GROW model parts will be covered during one session.

For those who are interested in coaching reading and pondering the skills will definitively give something. At least I found things which are usable. Point here is that book gives lot of information which is good to compare to ICF ideas and then make the own decision which to keep as the base. When coach has it base then he/she can add tips and hints to the base. This will deepen and broaden coach’s skills.

Coaching Perspectives

Goal of coaching is to change behavior and each coaching perspective defines different forces that contribute to person’s actions. White says that to know and understand the perspectives helps coach to steer client through change process. White describes six coaching perspectives behavioral, cognitive, value, emotional, neuroscientific and developmental perspectives. Behavioral perspective discusses about observable behavior and how it changes on the influence of reward and punishment. Cognitive perspective is about the thought process behind behavior. In relation to cognitive perspective White mentions mental models, beliefs, concept of self and the ladder of thinking. Emotional perspective says that emotions drive and shape behavior. From the neuroscientific perspective White just summarizes that everything has neural connections. Developmental perspective is discussing that person’s preferences change during their life.

Understanding coaching perspectives can help coach to deal with the client.

Forces that Inferences with Growth

To understand resistance helps to understand clients and help them overcome it.

White dedicates on chapter to discuss about the resistance. What kind of resistance he has experienced and where it comes. The forms of resistance White discusses are

  • Denial of impact
  • Restating the old mental model
  • Arguing or anger
  • Self-deprecation, defeatism
  • Blaming other
  • Making weak attempts at change
  • Agreement without follow-through
  • Forgetting-committing

Knowing and studying White’s types of resistance will give tools for the coach. I think the best thing is that if encountering these types of resistance first time in coaching coach has some initial idea what to do. One possible way to deal with resistance is to apply the theory of parts of self. In nutshell, this means that finding subparts which are weak and bring these to live to fight against the resistance.

The Timing of Learning and Change

Theory and practice shows that it is not always possible to force the change. Sometimes there need just to be right time before change happens.

            Part Three ‘Coaching Applications and Marketing’

Third part of the book discuss about coaching approaches, themes and business. Learning point from the last part in nut shell would be. There are certain themes which comes into surface more often than others. For a coach, these are good to know to be better prepared for the coaching sessions. Another point is that coaching is becoming more popular and companies are spending more money on it, which means that companies want to understand better the impact and cost of couching. Demand is increasing, but so are the requirements. Also, more coaches in the field, which increases the rivalry.

Distinctive Approaches to Coaching

White distinct two main perspectives to coaching. First is so called medical perspective, which focuses on problems and how to solve them. White says that the problem with medical perspective is that it has negative tone. The second and more fresh perspective is appreciative coaching, which takes the positive tone and focuses on strengths. Next White discusses coach’s use of self. He lists self-awareness, reflective practice and coach’s subpersonalities, intuition and self-revelation as tools of an appreciative coach. Self-awareness helps coach to act more consciously. Reflective practice is coach becoming more aware of his mental models. Intuition is about trusting one’s gut feeling, but first stopping and thinking does it make sense. Self-revelation is about sharing something about oneself. Self-revelation can be especially powerful when building rapport in the beginning of the coaching process.

Coaching Themes Familiar and Unique

White shares his experience through describing common coaching themes he has encountered. White started the book by saying truly wise person can learn from other’s experience. White’s common coaching themes are the following:

  • Having to be right
  • Working with Emotions: Empathy
  • The angry leader
  • Applying use of self
  • Motivation and leadership
  • Gaining and using power
  • A Caveat on Management Power
  • Coaching as organization intervention
  • Involving stakeholders: Who is the client?
  • The Client – manager relationship
  • Doing no harm
  • Sexuality at work

I think everyone can learn something by reading White’s coaching themes.

The Business of Coaching

White mentions that as long as there have been leaders there have been coaches. Earlier coaches served only CEO and other high-level leaders. Today, companies are hiring coaches also for middle managers. Spending in coaching has increased and at the same time companies are coming more and more cost aware. In short, requirements for coaches are increasing.


This time the book review was somewhat different compared to previous ones. This time I had the questions directing my thinking and working. My own feeling is that this review can give more to the readers than the previous ones. I hope you enjoyed reading it and learned something. Like I did. Feel free to share your thoughts with me by leaving a comment.

Winter is landing here in Finland. I hope all you can enjoy the wonders of winter.

Have a great rest of the year 2017!