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Coaching For Performance - John Whitmore

“Coaching for Performance” is one of the seminal coaching books of our time.  Dave Doran reviews this classic by Sir John Whitmore.

Coaching for performance

Described as the grandfather of coaching books, Sir John Whitmore’s Coaching For Performance, now in its’ fourth edition, has for many years provided the basis for Performance Coaching through the use of the GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) coaching model.

Sir John Whitmore is one of the original forward thinkers within the coaching genre introducing the principles of the Inner Game, formulated by Timothy Galway, identifying how coaching techniques used with performers within sport could be transferred to the world of business. As such the book provides a simple model for Performance Coaching based on the context of awareness and responsibility, the use of effective questioning, listening and the GROW model as a valuable framework for coaching interactions.

What is coaching and how can it be used?

Sir John Whitmore states that the purpose of the book is to illustrate “what coaching really is, what it can be used for, when and how much it can be used, who can use it well and who cannot.” Although the book has a focus for managers / coaches in the workplace, the coaching principles detailed can be equally applied by coaches operating outside of the business arena.

The book begins by examining the origins of coaching, explaining its’ roots in the disciplines of psychology, philosophy and social sciences; in essence defining coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance.”  The coach must therefore think in terms of their clients’ potential, not their performance, with the two key principles of any coaching interaction being that of awareness and responsibility. From here he examines the nature of coaching and the manager as coach before arriving at the key elements of the book. He proposes that the two essential skills for any coach are effective questioning and active listening; suggesting that following the GROW sequence with effective coaching questions is what makes the coaching work.

The GROW model

Subsequent chapters detail the key elements of the GROW model, Goal Setting, Reality, Options and Will, with each chapter giving brief examples of coaching conversations. These demonstrate how each element works within the model, the main focus being the establishing of clear achievable goals that allow the client to remove any interference, enabling potential to be turned into successful performance.

The remainder of the book discusses a range of topics including, motivation, feedback and assessment, the coaching of teams and, for this edition, newly written sections on leadership for high performance and transformation through transpersonal coaching.


Overall the book is clearly written and gives an invaluable introduction to the principles of coaching and the now widely used GROW model. Each element of the model is clearly delineated with supporting evidence and examples of how GROW works within a coaching relationship.  Although the examples are at times simplistic, they still provide the manager / coach with a starting point and framework to engage in coaching.

GROW is a coaching model that is tried and tested and can be used in short conservations to interactions over longer periods.  As such this book is a must for any coaches’ library and toolkit.

About the author 

Dave is the founder and Managing Director of S4P Coaching Limited. His coaching journey started 25 years ago in Rugby League. In a coaching career spanning 18 years he coached at every level from grassroots to international and was part of the Rugby Football League’s World Class Development Coaching Programme.

He has obtained coaching accreditations recognised by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. 

You can keep up to date with Dave at his blog at or connect with him on Twitter  @s4pmd

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