The field of Positive Psychology is of great interest to coaches. Yet there are few books written about how to apply the field in a coaching practice. It is always welcome to hear of new books about strengths-focused coaching, especially when they are written by coaches for coaches. It’s even better when they cover the subject so broadly, beyond the confines of Positive Psychology.
Power Up!: The Guide to Leadership Coaching with Strengths is written by an executive coach, Gene Knott. Dr Knott is a psychologist, executive coach and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Rhode Island. He has over 40 years of experience, including teaching, administration, systems consulting, group facilitation, training design and delivery. His primary interest is in organizational settings therefore this book will be of interest to readers who coach in any kind of organization.
This book is “a comprehensive description of a strengths-oriented, positive professional coaching approach that re-focuses the tenor of transactions for both leader/client and coach, thereby yielding substantially better outcomes.” The book does not teach coaching. Instead it helps coaches to enhance their current coaching practices by applying a strengths-focus. The book does not preach. It leaves readers with a sense that they need to take what works, test it, be discriminating, and most of all be situational. The book is informative, practical, and will give all readers a wealth of ideas, approaches, thoughts, and techniques which they can try if they like, or not.
Because Dr. Knott has vast experience in working with organizations, he weaves in many frameworks, theories, and techniques which have long been around, but which you would not typically find in a book that is informed just by Positive Psychology. I found it refreshing to learn how various organizational theories and tools can be applied with a strengths lens.It’s about the Coach
If I were to suggest the one take-away from this book, it would be that coaches need to apply the strengths-focus to themselves first. It’s about the coach’s mindset, frame of mind, way of seeing the world, and way of being with clients. Although the book has a wealth of tools and techniques, these are inadequate without coaches first living and breathing a strengths mindset in their own lives. This book is about the WHO of strengths coaching, with useful information about the HOW of strengths-based approaches.
Throughout, Dr Knott reminds the reader that it is how coaches view their clients that defines the quality of the work. He learned that a shift from problems-focus to a strengths-focus changed him and therefore how he worked with clients. Not only did it improve the quality of his work, but he was more satisfied which in turn impacted the quality of his client relationships.
The book is nicely structured so that readers can absorb information leading to a strengths-mindset and learn strategies to use in coaching sessions. At a glance, the book covers these areas:
- The fields which inform a strengths-approach e.g. Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology, Coaching, Change Management, Inquiry, Social Constructionism, Narrative.
- References to researchers, academics, and practitioners. These are wide and extensive and cover far more than the usual suspects you’d find in a positive psychology book. For example, there are experts in coaching, leadership, dialog, organizational systems, and change management.
- Numerous (over 40) frameworks, tools and models suitably described to be used flexibly and contextually in a coaching conversation. Nothing is right or wrong, all are offered as possibilities for the coach to use, but to use with thought, consideration and discernment. By stressing that the coaching supports continuous learning by all clients we learn that it is not for the coach to impose ‘interventions’ on clients.
- The history of the strengths focus. We learn that it has been around for decades. This book is also an excellent summary of the history of Positive Psychology and other related fields.
- The benefits of a strengths-focused approach for both clients and their workplace.
- Deficits, problems and weaknesses cannot not ignored: “Be clear that no one in the strengths or positive psychology fields is arguing for an avoidance of weaknesses or disregard of deficits. Rather, the specific approaches to these problem-framed issues are what differ in an asset-based paradigm.”
- Short summaries of key theories to whet our appetite for new knowledge, along with indexed references so we can learn more thoroughly by pursuing our own study.
- Values, mindsets, worldviews, and competencies that can help coaches enhance their practices.
It is clear through his writing style and via the information shared in the book that Dr Knott has a deep experience with the strengths-based approach. This is not just knowing about. It’s about knowing and doing, weaving together many related fields to deepen the coaching practice. This is a reminder to all coaches that a strengths-based approach is not simply about bolting on a few positive psychology interventions.
Read in conjunction with other positive psychology and strengths-based coaching books, some mentioned in the references, this is a very useful addition to the bookshelf.
Knott, G. (2012). Power Up!: The Guide to Leadership Coaching with Strengths. iUniverse.
Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2007). Positive Psychology Coaching: Putting the Science of Happiness to Work for Your Clients. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching: Assessment, Diagnosis, and Intervention. Jew York: John Wiley & Sons.
Linley, P. A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book: Be Confident, Be Successful, and Enjoy Better Relationships by Realising the Best of You.
Orem, S., Binchert, J. & Clancy, A. (2007). Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (Jossey-Bass Business & Management). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Photos used with permission from Amanda Horne