Celebrating Coaching’s Fire Starter, Professor Anthony Grant

"Take Out the Sham & Put in the Wham" with insights from a pioneer in the field of research and executive coaching.


In 2020, the executive coaching industry lost a great pioneer in the field of research and evidence-based coaching, Professor Anthony Grant, PhD. In light of Professor Anthony Grant’s groundbreaking research and life legacy, Severin Sorensen and Nathalie Pavlik moderated a celebration of research, life, and legacy of Professor Anthony Grant at the European Mentoring and Coaching Council Global Research Conference on September 8, 2022. Below we share a sneak peek into Severin and Nathalie’s presentation, “Taking Out the Sham, and Putting in the Wham: Towards Evidence-Based Coaching Practice—Honoring the Life and Work of Professor Anthony Grant, PhD.” If you're interested in learning more, click here and tune into the accompanying podcast episode.



Who is Professor Anthony Grant?

Professor Anthony Grant, PhD (1954-2020), is often credited as ‘the father of evidence-based coaching” and in 2000 he “established the world’s first Coaching Psychology Unit at the School of Psychology at The University of Sydney.” (Grant, 2020). As Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit, Anthony Grant made great strides toward establishing the efficacy of evidence-based coaching. He collaborated widely with colleagues at Sydney University and researchers worldwide. Through his focused attention, research, teaching, and collaborations, Anthony has supported the development of the evidence-based coaching industry and his impact on the industry continues today.


In academia, a scholar's contributions and community significance is often captured by academic key performance indicators: for example, SemanticScholar shows that Professor Grant has 111 publications of record. On Google Scholar, it shows additional KPIs for Grant such as number of citations by others (13,368), peak h-index (58), and peak i10-index (102).


To understand how these measures interpret academic contribution, Hirsh recons that an h-index of 20 is good, 40 is outstanding, and 60 is truly exceptional; indeed, 84% of Nobel prize winners in physics have had an h-index of at least 30; Tony’s peak h-index was 58. At the time of his passing, he had authored 8 books, 27 book chapters, and 70 peer-reviewed journal articles; additional publications are forthcoming from his prior work in progress.


He is recognized as the first to conduct a randomized control trial on executive coaching. And he was one of the founding editorial board members of the International Coaching Psychology Review. So there is much to appreciate and unpack about Anthony’s research, life, and legacy in the sections that follow.


Professor Anthony Grant was raised by his parents in the United Kingdom and had a childhood ripe with discussion on philosophical and psychological topics, which ultimately developed in him a “curious and assumption-challenging mind” (Coaching at Work 2020).


At the age of 15, he left school, completed his training as a carpenter, and ran his own contracting business. He sustained his skills in carpentry and building all his life. Later in life, Anthony moved to Australia and enrolled at the University of Sydney in 1992. Professor Anthony Grant had great success in college, graduating first in his class, receiving the University Medal, the Australian Psychological Prize, and the Dick Thompson Prize. In 1999, he set forward on the path of creating the “world’s first Coaching Psychology Unit and the world’s first postgraduate degree in Coaching Psychology” (University of Sydney, 2020 & Institute of Coaching, n.d.). In 2000, Professor Anthony Grant became the Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit. From here, Professor Grant became the pioneer of evidence-based coaching and brought his “passion” for helping others “into the scientific enterprise of coaching” (O’Connor & Cavanagh, 2020).


Anthony Grant’s key contributions

Anthony Grant has had an immense impact on the coaching industry and its growth towards evidence-based practices. Below we summarize some of his most impactful contributions to the coaching industry. However, it is important to note that the research studies referenced are only “a drop in the bucket” when compared to the wealth of knowledge Professor Anthony Grant shared with students and the coaching community throughout his lifetime.


Coaching should be “solution-focused” and generate insights, rather than be “self-focused” on past or present challenges

Anthony Grant’s research advocates the importance of using “solution-focused” coaching strategies as opposed to “self-focused” reflection. In a 2018 presentation, Anthony Grant explains that “a goal focused,” much like “solutions” focused, “coaching relationship is the key to coaching success.” He explains that solutions-focused coaching is more effective when increasing well-being and self-insight rather than past or present-focused coaching strategies (Grant, 2018).



The "Steps to Solutions Framework" and evidence for solution-focused coaching

In his 2013 article “Steps to Solutions: A process for putting solution-focused

coaching principles into practice,” Anthony Grant outlines how coaches can “apply solution-focused coaching skills” through his “Steps to Solutions” process (Grant, 2013a). Additionally, in a 2019 article by Anthony Grant and his colleague Benjamin Gerrard, they found that solution-focused coaching questions “were more effective than problem-focused questions on all measures” and that they were also “more effective at increasing self-efficacy and decreasing negative affect compared to a combined problem-focused and solution-focused approach” (Grant & Gerrard, 2019a).



Riding the cathartic wave: the importance of transitioning from problem to solution-focused discussion for optimal coaching impact

In his 2019 article, Anthony Grant discussed the balance between knowing that “people need to be heard” and problems must be discussed with the importance of transitioning to “solution talk” (Grant, 2019b).




Hope can be increased more effectively with gratitude as opposed to optimism

In a discussion with Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Anthony Grant shares that based on research, hope increases more effectively with gratitude than with optimism (VIAStrengths, 2012). Executive coaches can use this insight to encourage clients to keep a gratitude journal of all the things they are thankful for.


Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience, hope, engagement, and workplace well-being

In 2009, in a collaborative work by Grant, Curtayne, and Burton, they found that “executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience, and workplace well-being” through “a Randomized Controlled Study” (Grant et al., 2009). In this randomized controlled study, it was found that coaching “helped increase self-confidence and personal insight, build management skills” and “deal with organizational change.” This research “suggests that executive coaching may well be an effective means of creating purposeful, positive individual change” in “as little as four coaching sessions.” And, short-term coaching can “increase goal attainment, enhance resilience, ameliorate depression and stress, and increase workplace well-being.”


Coaching was also found to support clients' handling of “organizational change” (Grant et al., 2009). Another collaborative research study Anthony Grant completed with peers, Wendy Madden and Suzy Green, found that strengths-based coaching can increase “levels of engagement and hope” (Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011).


“Positive psychology and evidence-based coaching have the potential to make a significant contribution to flourishing youth services” (Leach, Green, & Grant, 2011)

In this literature review, Grant and colleagues discussed the benefits of positive psychology and evidence-based coaching on youth programs. They found that both positive psychology and evidence-based coaching can have a “significant” positive “contribution” to “youth services” and programs (Leach, Green, & Grant, 2011).


Executive coaching is an aid in times of organizational change

In 2013, Anthony Grant found that when individuals received coaching during periods of “organizational change” they experienced “increased goal attainment, enhanced solution-focused thinking, a greater ability to deal with change, increased leadership self-efficacy, and resilience, and a decrease in depression” (Grant, 2013b).


Coaching should inspire “‘sticky’ intentional change”

Anthony Grant advocated that coaching should inspire “‘sticky’ intentional change” in a 2019 symposium titled “Desired Outcomes in Coaching: Coaching for “Sticky” Intentional Change.” Anthony Grant wanted the benefits of coaching to be long-term and sustain the desired changes of the client (Smith, van Oosten, Richard, Boyatzis, Grant, Passarelli, Taylor, & Moore, 2019).


Coaches seeking to provide effective coaching should have detailed knowledge of evidence-based coaching research, observing and implementing what works, shunning practices that are not-researched or supported, and ensuring that their ‘best practice’ isn’t actually bad practice

In 2019, Anthony Grant and Sean O’Conner released “A Brief Primer for Those New to Coaching Research and Evidence-Based Practice.” In this review, they advocate Covey’s “seek first to understand” (1989) concept and encourage coaches to invest in evidence-based coaching practices to best serve their clients. They also encourage coaches with the following powerful statement: “By questioning our assumptions, by engaging in constructive and informed self-reflection about our coaching practice, we become more mature, balanced, and purposeful professionals” (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).


Coach training helps coaches too

Anthony Grant also researched the effect that coach training has on coaches themselves. With colleague Ofer Atad, Anthony Grant found that when coaches participate in coach training they experience increased “satisfaction with life, mindfulness, solution-focused thinking, self-insight, and a need for self-reflection” (Atad & Grant, 2020).


“If it ain’t written, it ain’t coaching!”

In a 2016 article, “Reflection, note-taking and coaching: If it ain’t written, it ain’t coaching!”, Anthony Grant encouraged coaches to take notes during coaching sessions using the I-GROW model (Issue, Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up). He also advises coaches to encourage their clients to write their goals down within coaching sessions as well (Grant, 2016).


We at AreteCoach.io are committed to exploring the art and science of coaching, and this includes supporting the furtherance of evidence-based coaching practices.


References

Atad, O., & Grant, A. (2020). How does coach training change coaches-in-training? Differential effects for novice vs. experienced ‘skilled helpers.’ Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 14(1), 3–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/17521882.2019.1707246

Coaching at Work. (2020). Obituary: Prof. Anthony Grant. https://www.coaching-at-work.com/2020/03/01/obituary-prof-anthony-grant/.


Grant, A. (2013a). Steps to Solutions: A process for putting solution-focused coaching principles into practice. The Coaching Psychologist, 9(1), 36–44. https://shop.bps.org.uk/the-coaching-psychologist-vol-9-no-1-june-2013.


Grant, A. (2013b). The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change. Journal of Change Management, 14(2), 258–280. https://doi.org/10.1080/14697017.2013.805159.


Grant, A. (2016). Reflection, note-taking and coaching: If it ain’t written, it ain’t coaching! The Coaching Psychologist, 12(2), 49–58. https://shop.bps.org.uk/the-coaching-psychologist-vol-12-no-2-december-2016.


Grant, A. (2018). Twenty Years of Solution-focused Coaching Research at the University of Sydney [Slides]. The University of Sydney. https://cdn-asset-mel-1.airsquare.com/aasfbt/library/2018-conf-presentations/grant-twenty-years-of-solution-focused-coaching-research-handouts.pdf?201807240550.


Grant, A. (2019b). Solution-focused coaching: The basics for advanced practitioners. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(2), 44–53. https://shop.bps.org.uk/the-coaching-psychologist-vol-15-no-2-december-2019.


Grant, A., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: a randomised controlled study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 396–407. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760902992456.


Grant, A., & Gerrard, B. (2019). Comparing problem-focused, solution-focused and combined problem-focused/solution-focused coaching approach: solution-focused coaching questions mitigate the negative impact of dysfunctional attitudes. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 13(1), 61–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/17521882.2019.1599030.


Grant, A., & O’Connor, S. (2019). A brief primer for those new to coaching research and evidence-based practice. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(1), 3–10.

Institute of Coaching. (n.d.). Anthony Grant PhD. https://instituteofcoaching.org/anthony-grant-phd.


Leach, C., Green, L., & Grant, A. (2011). Flourishing Youth Provision: The Potential Role of Positive Psychology and Coaching in Enhancing Youth Services. International

Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 9(1), 44–58. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Flourishing-Youth-Provision%3A-The-Potential-Role-of-Leach-Green/851b435fb658d545cd7799e48f578de91d3c74c1.


Madden, W., Green, S., & Grant, A. (2011). A pilot study evaluating strengths-based coaching for primary school students: Enhancing engagement and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review, 6(1), 71–83. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-11715-006.


O’Connor, S., & Cavanagh, M. (2020). Webinar: Special Tribute to Anthony Grant: A Review of the Contribution of the Coaching Psychology Unit at Sydney University. Institute of Coaching. https://instituteofcoaching.org/resources/webinar-special-tribute-anthony-grant-review-contribution-coaching-psychology-unit-sydney.


Sorensen, S. L., Lerotić Pavlik, N. (2022). Towards Evidence-Based Coaching Practice: “Taking Out the Sham, and Putting in the Wham” – Honoring the Life, Legacy, and Research of Professor Anthony Grant, PhD. Arete Coach Working Paper 001, www.AreteCoach.io.


Smith, M., van Oosten, E., Boyatzis, R., Grant, A., Passarelli, A., Taylor, S., & Moore, S. (2019). Desired Outcomes in Coaching: Coaching for “‘Sticky’” Intentional Change. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2019(1), https://doi.org/10.5465/ambpp.2019.15537symposium.


The University of Sydney. (2020, February 7). Vale Professor Anthony Grant. https://www.sydney.edu.au/science/news-and-events/2020/02/07/vale-professor-anthony-grant.html.


[VIAStrengths]. (2012, February 16). Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Dr. Anthony Grant on Building Hope [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrJ8i5nU0mU.


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