By Paul Heardman
Book review - Systemic Coaching by Peter Hawkins and Eve Turner

Book review - Systemic Coaching by Peter Hawkins and Eve Turner

Some books shake our world view.  For me, this is one of those.  I can’t remember the last time I had so many lightbulb moments as when reading “Systemic Coaching”.  It prompted me to reflect deeply on how I contract with clients, on my approach to goal setting and evaluation and to ask fundamental questions about what it is I am doing when I am coaching. 

This book doesn’t pull its punches.  Early on, it asks are we doing more than just helping already highly privileged people access expensive personal development?  Is coaching ‘just feeding western individualistic narcissism and self-absorption, which may be part of the root causes of many 21st century human problems?’  Wow! 

The book reminds us that Hawkins’ famous 2009 question “What were the coaches doing while the banks were burning?” was reframed in 2019 by Zoe Cohen as “What were the coaches doing while the world warmed by 3 degrees?”  Provocative maybe, but the authors argue that ignoring this challenge may amount to coaching’s collusion with the ‘wilful blindness’ that Margaret Heffernan describes. 

The book is clear we need to avoid imposing our agenda on the client.  It offers some great tips on questions we can pose to raise systemically client awareness and responsibility, including prompting us to reflect deeply on who really is the client?  Do we include the more-than-human world as part of the stakeholder map?  What about our client’s future self?  And our own?  How do we engage in systemic supervision and in systemic team coaching?   What are systemic ethics?  It encourages the coach and their coachee to constantly discover afresh the work that needs to be done in service of the wider systemic world. 

This book is deeply compassionate.  The authors show us how adopting a truly systemic approach increases our non-judgmentalism and wide-angled empathy.  They describe how this is about truly embodying a systemic way of perceiving, thinking, being and relating.  It is about far more than bringing in tools such as Hawkins’ famous 7 eyed model.  The authors argue that at its heart, coaching is a spiritual practice.    

The book ends with a powerful question – “what is it we in coaching can uniquely do that the world of tomorrow needs?”  Reading this book may help you with finding your own answer to that. 


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