Coaching as a Leadership Style: the Art and Science of Coaching Conversations for Health-Care Professionals

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 6 May 2014


Rao, M.S. (2014), "Coaching as a Leadership Style: the Art and Science of Coaching Conversations for Health-Care Professionals", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 22 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Coaching as a Leadership Style: the Art and Science of Coaching Conversations for Health-Care Professionals

Article Type: Suggested readings From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 22, Issue 3

Robert F. Hicks,Routledge,2013,ISBN: 9780415528061

Coaching as a Leadership Style: the Art and Science of Coaching Conversations for Health-Care Professionals, by Robert F. Hicks, asserts that leadership and coaching go hand-in-hand. It introduces the concept of three helping hats – teaching, mentoring and coaching. All three hats may be worn at some point during a helping conversation, but only one can be worn at a time. The book claims that the health-care environment requires a more sophisticated set of leadership skills because of the rapidly changing business environment.

The author introduces a practical coaching style as a way of interacting with colleagues, managing direct-reports, helping others to solve problems, responding to change, making effective choices and developing professionally. The book draws from four evidence-based models for interacting with others and facilitating change – solution-focused therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and transactional analysis – and reframes them so that they are congruent with managerial and leadership terminology and provide a practical set of methods for today’s health-care leader.

The author highlights two kinds of resistance – uninformed and rebellious. In both cases, the goal is to have a quiet conversation about change to move the person from pre-contemplation to contemplation on the recognition continuum. There are many techniques that are useful in this process, but they are all designed to promote self-analysis and introspection, encourage the person to rethink his or her behavior and examine the drawback of current behavior.

Coaching can be defined as the process of facilitating self-determined and self-directed problem-solving or change in the context of a helping conversation. Coaching is akin to leading a person through a process of self-discovery. From this, it follows that coaching must be an inquiry-based method in the spirit of Socrates. The Greek philosopher insisted that he was neither a teacher nor a mentor. He claimed, rather, to be a “midwife” who did not transmit knowledge to his companions but, through critical, self-examining dialogue, helped them to labor successfully to find the answers they sought.

The author explains that Eric Berne identified three ego states that are part of the human personality – parent, adult and child. Each has an important function. He recognized that human communication can be described in terms of exchanges that take place between these three ego states. Each ego state has a defining set of words, tones, gestures, postures and facial expressions that are easily recognized.

The author describes intelligent listening as the ability to listen for, and recover, deletions contained in people’s surface-structure language to add clarity and understanding to their narrative. Four types of deletions are described: unnamed references, unspecified action verbs, unchallenged pressure words and unstated reasoning.

Here are the coaching takeaways from this book:

  • Coaching is an interaction between two activities – support and challenge. To support means to encourage, comfort, strengthen, validate and reinforce. To challenge means to confront, question, test and dare. Support and challenge must work together in a balanced way.

  • Thoughts and actions are to a coach what clay is to a potter.

  • Empathy promotes intellectual exploration and helps people to think more productively. Empathy supports thought.

  • Coaching people requires that you give them your attention, but not your solutions.

  • A coach-like approach will benefit health-care leaders as they attempt to gain co-operation and commitment in a demanding health-care environment populated with challenging professionals.

  • We all need help. No one makes it through life without assistance and support from others. Providing help to another is both an honor and an obligation, especially for those holding positions of leadership.

  • Visually attending to the other person – that is, providing eye contact – is an essential part of behavioral attention. An appropriate amount of eye contact (not staring) communicates interest in the other person.

  • The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.

  • There are always two conversations going on in any helping discussion – the one we have with the other person and the one we have with ourselves. A conversation that we have with ourselves is called an internal dialogue, also known as self-talk. When our self-talk dominates, our mental energy is directed inward, thereby reducing our connection to the external world.

  • As success is achieved through choice-related processes, it makes sense that the more choices a person will consider, the greater the chances he or she has of achieving success. If a person refuses to experiment with different actions to gain what he or she wants, the paths to accomplishment are limited. One of the main goals of any coaching process is to increase the choices a person perceives as available.

  • A journey must have a destination. However, the people you help may not always know where they want to go, they may only know that they do not want things to be the same as they are now. Challenging them to think about their current situation and what they want to be different helps them to define their destination. Challenging people’s thinking assumes that support for thought is present.

This is a well-researched book containing examples, illustrations, anecdotes, case studies and stories. It provides valuable takeaways for educators, facilitators, coaches and leaders who are keen to acquire knowledge on coaching from the perspective of health-care professionals.

Reviewed by M.S. Rao, Professor International Leadership Guru,,