BOOK REVIEW: Be Your Own Leadership Coach by Karen Stein

Review by Jo Toon FCIPS

No-one is born instinctively knowing how to be a leader. But all too often, someone moves into a leadership position without sufficient support or guidance in the behaviours and mindsets that will enable them to be the best leader they can.

Some people rectify this by going on a training course or by hiring a coach. However, this is not always for everyone, with both time and money being a limiting factor for many people. This is where Be Your Own Leadership Coach comes in.

Self-coaching is the practice of active self-reflection, using your own experience and observations to support yourself to learn and grow. Whilst it is not a full substitute for using someone else to talk to, it is an important skill to develop. It supports you to reflect in the moment, providing more immediate results.

Be Your Own Leadership Coach provides you with self-coaching tools for you to keep in a ‘virtual backpack’ to be drawn out and used as the situation demands. It is a useful guide for skills that leaders should work on, with twelve practice areas. These practice areas begin with topics that focus on yourself as a leader, your values and leadership style, and then turn outwards to focus on your interactions with your team and others, and how to get the best out of listening and communicating.

Each practice contains several coaching questions and practical exercises to be worked through. The book is not intended to be read in one sitting. Instead, to get the most value, the reader needs to deliberately progress through the exercises, repeating them where necessary. As well as supporting you to grow, this also helps the questions to become second nature and more easily accessible.

Be Your Own Leadership Coach is not just for those with ‘leadership’ in their title, or for someone sitting at the top of an organisation. Many roles, paid and voluntary, come with elements of leadership, and the skill of pausing and taking some time to self-reflect is something that we should all develop, no matter our role or position.

The practice of self-awareness was particularly useful for me. In particular, Karen works through a number of cognitive distortions – faulty ways of thinking or negative mindsets, and provides a series of cognitive behaviour therapy based questions to ask yourself when you feel the negative mindset coming on. The section is very simple, but I’ve found it incredibly useful to quickly reframe a negative-loop and reset it to a more positive approach to a situation.

Similarly, I enjoyed working through the practice of listening. Karen provides some simple self-reflection exercises to do after meetings, as well as a list of common distractions that prevent active listening, and options for countering them. There is also a very useful section on hints and tips for listening when having online meetings – an absolute necessity now!

Be Your Own Leadership Coach is clear and well written. Karen has included plenty of illustrative examples to support the topic which makes it easier to grasp the concepts, and to help you see yourself reflected in the leadership challenges being discussed. I found the questions and self-coaching exercises very valuable, and this is definitely a book that I shall return to many times as I develop on my leadership pathway.

Be Your Own Leadership Coach: Self-coaching strategies to lead your way by Karen Stein is out now. 

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