The Coaching Advantage for Almost Anyone

Coaching books offering value for almost anyone. Photo by the author.

4 books to help you with prosperity, conversations,

embracing existence, and presence

Perhaps you think that coaching — especially life coaching — is some wishy-washy, therapy-lite accessory. I did. Until I took one coaching course and became an almost overnight advocate for what is its own distinct field with compelling and robust philosophical and practical underpinnings.

You may also think that coaching is a support service, based on a one-to-one relationship and its conversations. That’s a lackluster description of a powerful process, but it is that.

It’s also two other interesting things that are more widely applicable: coaching as an evolving collection of tools we can all use to be more effective in our lives, and coaching as a lifestyle, culture, way of being.

In support of these two later senses, I offer the following outstanding — and very different books — on coaching as eye-opening and beneficial for almost anyone, coach or not.


The Prosperous Coach:

Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients

By Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin (2013)

Chandler and Litvin’s book* is a motivating tough-love, experienced-based guide to everything the title and subtitle promise and one of the best business books I’ve read for any service provider or solo pro. Here is some of their wisdom distilled for general purposes:

  • There are three components to being a highly successful coach (or service provider): client creation, fearless service, and deep inner work.

  • Yes, clients are created — not convinced, manipulated, or attracted — through a system that you develop that is centered on powerful demonstrations combining imagination and action. Clients become clients either through referrals or because you invite them with bold proposals.

  • To be effective and share everything you know your service has to offer humanity, you must fearlessly lead and serve others and not succumb to people-pleasing, neediness, shallow marketing, coddling, etc.

  • To do the above to the best of your ability, you must always be learning and growing, doing deep inner work.

  • A pro learns to love selling and the business aspect of their service as much as performing the service, as one can’t exist without the other. The first should be easy because of your fierce belief in the value of what you offer.

  • To get clients, you must go to work they way blue-collar workers go to work — on a schedule and putting in the effort, doing the work, day in and day out. Work is the price of money. On the route to paid clients, fill your day with impactful conversations and relationship-building, not emails, social media, generic marketing, and avoidance tactics.

  • Leave your sales conversations on the note of possibility — what’s in it for them and their desired outcomes? — not affordability. “Yes lives in the land of no.” Serve as a waiter serves…Is this something I can get (do) for you?


The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and

Change the Way You Lead Forever

By Michael Bungay Stanier (2016)

Asking dynamic, effectual questions at the right time is a key skill of master coaches and at the heart of all successful coaching conversations. Bungay Stanier uses his whole book* to show how far any leader or manager can go with only seven specific questions:

  • What’s on your mind? This “Discovery Question” also helps remind us of other useful advice: Ask one question at a time, then stop and wait for the answer.

  • And What Else? “The AWE Question” reminds us of the power of open-ended questions versus ones like Why? and ones that yield only yes/no answers. It’s a quick, easy way to draw out more information and generate new thinking and options.

  • What’s the real challenge for you here? A “Focus Question” that demonstrates the power of what, this question moves through back story and clutter and guides a conversation towards solutions and moving beyond obstacles.

  • What do you want? The author calls this “The Foundation Question” — one that puts responsibility and the expectation of being a grown-up on the other party.

  • How can I help? Aka “The Lazy Question,” this inquiry is not meant to rescue or take over responsibility from the one to whom it’s directed. Rather, it’s more like, So, what do you want from me? (i.e., put the responsibility on the other to specify.)

  • What are you saying no to? Dubbed “The Strategic Question,” this technique prompts the receiver to examine whether they’re working on the most important thing and, in parallel, requisite boundaries and natural limits.

  • What was most useful for you? This “Learning Question” is the elegant way to wrap up many conversations. The asker learns about the other and in searching for and retrieving an answer, the respondent solidifies their learning, what was valuable.

Runner-up books in the powerful questions department: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership* (John C. Maxwell, 2014) elaborates on the value of thoughtful questioning in effective leadership. Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills* (Tony Stoltzfus, 2008) provides hundreds of sample questions (and rationales for their use) to borrow as is for various situations.


An Introduction to Existential Coaching: How Philosophy Can Help Your Clients Live with Greater Awareness, Courage, and Ownership

By Yannick Jacob (2019)

Existential coaching uses the themes of existential philosophy to help clients tackle their everyday lives, goals, and challenges at the deep level of existence and human givens. Published by a scholarly/professional publisher, this short book* packs a cerebral punch, but is an accessible enough read for the lay person. It not only makes a strong case for this particular approach, but demonstrates how wrangling with philosophy and its themes contributes to our higher welfare.

Some background:

  • Existentialism is a philosophical tradition advanced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by mainly Western European philosophers, including such notables as Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Sartre, that centered on the experience of existence for the human individual.

  • Human existence for these thinkers revolves around the ongoing and interconnected themes of freedom, choice, and responsibility; authenticity; facticity and human givens; absurdity, meaning, and creation of meaning; isolation and the other; and angst, dread, and anxiety.

  • Connecting some of the implication-dots of the above: We are all born as constrained individuals into specific situations and all face the ultimate guarantee: death. Yet, we are not defined by such facts of biology and culture because the world is absurd, inherently without meaning, leaving the meaning of existence up for our own determination. We are “condemned” by this freedom (Sartre, 1946), as it becomes our job to choose our paths, create ourselves, and be responsible for those things, knowing that ultimately we will die. These realities, naturally, stir up feelings of anxiety and dread, including in our relationships with other people, who are undergoing their own such existences. We should aim for authenticity (avoiding doing so is termed bad faith), a courageous ongoing quest to accept and deal with these formidable pillars of human life.

  • Existential coaching happens to coincide nicely with a development in psychology called Positive Psychology 2.0 by Dr. Paul Wong. Whereas Positive Psychology studies what’s right with people — the traits, habits, emotions, etc. that go along with happiness, resilience, and thriving — PP2.0 refers to an offshoot that recognizes and explores the darker and more challenging sides of human psychology and how those things relate to human well-being.

  • So, mesh the typically positive, forward-moving, goal-centric orientation of coaching and the characteristically dark and challenging nature of existentialism, and you get existential coaching: a means for healthy, functioning clients to engage these complicated themes within the context of their own lives and concerns, leading to greater functioning and well-being, integration of light and dark, and even thriving.


Coach the Person not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry

By Marcia Reynolds (2020)

Author Marcia Reynolds is a Master Coach, has a doctorate in psychology, and owns a leadership training and coaching firm. She also happens to share that expertise in some of the most insightful writing on productive coaching. Here are useful takeaways for all of us from her latest book*:

  • As established above, powerful questions are at the heart of coaching. Reynolds adds a yes, but asterisk to this truism. Questions bring answers she says. What clients need is insight. That they get from reflective inquiry.

  • Reflective inquiry takes the pressure off a coach from asking the right questions. Instead, Reynolds suggests reflecting back to another what you’ve heard, and then asking whatever natural question arises for you. E.g., I’ve just listened to you list several things that frustrate you about your boss, yet you say you have a great relationship. How are those things not in conflict? In this case, the respondent may clarify their statements further, they may share how they work with or around those frustrations, or perhaps, they may realize some major communication gaps that need to be worked on.

  • When listening to others, be a fearless thinking partner, but detach from what you think another should say or do. When you don’t judge others or give advice, others feel safe and cared about — and better able to come to the conclusions and awareness on their own that they need at the moment.

  • Asking questions should not be your only substitute for giving advice. More useful alternatives may include paraphrasing what you’ve heard, sharing the emotions you’re noticing, and voicing other reflections that prompt the other to see their own perspectives in a new way.

  • When in a conversation with someone who’s conflicted, stay with the person and not the problem. This means supporting, trusting, and validating the person; reflecting back to them what you hear and expressing what you’re observing. It doesn’t mean centering the problem, analyzing it, fixing it for them, or brainstorming solutions (unless they ask you for that/realize that is what they most want or need).

  • Consider the active role of receiving in a conversation. This permits you to connect with the other person and strengthen your relationship, demonstrate that you hear/value/understand them, and explore, learn, and grow together. By contrast, listening alone can be more distant and transactional as when we listen to collect information, answer a question, solve a problem, or follow social norms.

  • Presence and intention are the two most important things in your communications and relationships with others. How are you there for others in the moment and what is your intention in your interacting?

(This concept is also useful for coaching yourself. Next time you’re suffering, try being with yourself and not the problem.)


What I’ve outlined above is just the tip of the iceberg for what each of these books has to offer the non coach. If any of this material grabs you, I encourage you to read and even re-read the whole book. They’re full of the kind of practical, real-word, not obvious advice that comes from years of experience and thoughtful observation, and that yields fresh insights with repeated encounters.

*affiliate link