Unlocking Potential: A Coaching Style that Resonates

Unlocking Potential

In the introduction to Unlocking Potential, the author, Michael Simpson, cautions coaches (i.e., leaders, bosses, management, etc.) against coaching as if they are engaged in open-ended therapy. Ironically, though, this book actually contains A LOT of (admirable) advice to dig deep and truly empathize with the people you are coaching, so you can help them be their best selves.

Only a few pages into the book, I knew I was going to jibe with Simpson’s coaching style when he says, “Even as a child, we have an instinctive response to personal attention, respect, and positive feedback. That need for human response does not end when we become adults. When people are truly listened to, when they can see that others are listening, they begin to open up, engage more, and expose potential suppressed by years of self-defensiveness, self-betrayal, or self-denial.” It’s a simple but profoundly true statement. I found myself inspired by Simpson’s writing–and despite how cliche it is to say this, he really made me want to be a better person, if only so I could help other people do the same.

Unlocking Potential is a concise book, divided into two parts. In Part One, Simpson talks about the four principles of coaching: creating trust, tapping into a person’s (existing!) potential, creating commitment (generated within the individual you are coaching), and executing goals (which also involves establishing accountability). This section was straightforward but informative. I really loved seeing how clearly Simpson values people. He is almost reverent when he gives advice, and I can tell he truly believes that helping people know themselves better, especially while navigating times of crises, is a sacred responsibility. I respect that.

In Part Two, Simpson describes the seven skills of coaching, and he says anyone can learn them. They are building trust, challenging paradigms, seeking strategic clarity, executing goals, giving effective feedback, tapping into talent, and moving the middle (i.e., not just focusing on top performers, since the majority of good-but-not-great workers actually have the most room for improvement).

Within this second section, I especially enjoyed the chapters on seeking strategic clarity, executing goals, and giving good feedback. The chapters on seeking clarity and executing goals made me realize that people (including myself) need to know, not only what their goals are, but also how to know when they’ve achieved them. How do you measure success? The answer may be as simple as “From X to Y by When,” i.e., “From $50,000 in debt to $25,000 in debt by Christmas.” But we need specific goals–and then we need to actually focus on them. I liked Simpson’s observation, “Great coaches help people realize that they will always have more good ideas than they will have time, money, and capacity to execute; therefore, they should limit their goals to no more than one to three at a time.” Another simple but true statement.

The chapter on giving good feedback stuck with me, I think, because, again, Simpson shows such a deep reverence for people, for being respectful of and careful with their emotions. He says, “State your feedback [especially negative feedback] in a way that conveys your sincere courtesy, respect, and support. When you are dealing with a person’s deep inner self, you are truly walking on sacred ground.” His caring attitude just really resonated with me.

So, overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. I thought there was a lot of helpful advice in here–even for someone like myself who isn’t running a major corporation…but is responsible for managing a household and raising three hopefully decent human beings.

My only gripe was that Simpson referenced his mentor, Stephen R. Covey (the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) a lot. I understand giving credit where credit is due, but at some point I started to wonder if I should have just read Covey’s book instead. Otherwise, though, I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a short read with a big pay off.

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