Renewal Coaching

Douglas B. Reeves and Elle Allison, Renewal Coaching: Sustainable Change for Individuals and Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009). $29.95, 315 pages.

Every New Year, millions of people resolve to change their lives. I myself resolved (yet again) to eat right, exercise, and improve my spiritual practices. And like millions of people, my resolve failed early and often. I’m still overweight and under-exercised, and I haven’t completed other personal improvement projects I committed myself to.

Organizations, like individuals, set goals and timetables to make changes—whether it’s improving sales, efficiency, or customer satisfaction. And like individuals who resolve to change, organizations lose their nerve and never complete their change projects. Change guru John Kotter estimates that 70% of organizational change initiatives die out.

In Renewal Coaching, Doug Reeves and Elle Allison argue that one of the major reasons for failure is that organizations’ focus on effectiveness and efficiency blinds them to the necessity of the personal renewal of their leaders and employees. Only renewed leaders can lead sustainable change.

What is renewal coaching? It is “a framework for helping people and organizations achieve sustainable change in pursuit of the greater good.” Renewal includes, among other goods, “meaningful work, important relationships, and flawless execution.” It is a solution to boredom, despair, and frustration at work. Coaches help individuals realize these solutions, and improved organizational performance flows from improved individual performance and feeds back into it.

The framework for renewal coaching involves these seven components:

  1. Recognition: finding patterns of toxicity and renewal
  2. Reality: confronting change killers in work and life
  3. Reciprocity: coaching in harmony
  4. Resilience: coaching through pain
  5. Resonance: coaching with emotional intelligence
  6. Relationship: making the process personal
  7. Renewal: creating energy, meaning, and sustainability

The desired outcome of renewal coaching is the seventh component. The previous six components build on and lead into one another. Reeves and Anderson devote a chapter each to these seven components. And each of those chapters concludes with a scored assessment of one’s proficiency in that component, together with a list of open-ended questions for further assessment.

The final three chapters of the book discuss renewal coaching as a passion, profession, and business. They will be interesting mostly to people who are building a career as a professional coach. Such people are also the book’s intended readership. I should make clear that contrary to the subtitle, this book is not primarily about how individuals and organizations can make sustainable change. Rather, it is a book about how people can coach individuals and organizations to make sustainable change. I would add that leaders, managers, and human resources personnel could also benefit from reading this book, since informal coaching is almost always part of their job.

As a minister, I resonated with many of the things Reeves and Allison wrote. There are many analogies between pastoring and renewal coaching. Pastoring, like renewal coaching, is about helping people identify toxicity and renewal, or sin and grace. It is about confronting the realities of actions, attitudes, and emotions that reinforce a failure to change, or repent. It is about working alongside others, both teaching and learning from them. It is about helping parishioners move through times of pain, and doing so with the Spirit of the God who doesn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. The pastoring process is personal; our business objective, as it were, is helping people change. And it is about helping people experience new birth.

The more I saw these analogies between pastoring and renewal coaching, the more alert I became to the spiritual current that underlies this book—spiritual, though not necessarily religious. It seems that renewal coaches are playing a role once reserved for pastors and other religious leaders. Renewal, after all, is the language of revival and spiritual reform. And this makes me wonder whether we are expecting too much of our jobs these days. Still, to the extent that renewal coaching can help humanize the work place, it accomplishes a very important goal.

Renewal Coaching is a good book. I recommend it to coaches, leaders, managers, and HR personnel whose responsibilities include people development. And pastors might take a look at it too for suggestive hints about their own work with parishioners.

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