‘The passing of David Gray is a great loss for the coaching world. David’s contribution to the field was both thoughtful, thought provoking and strong. Whether it be in the area of supervision, the application of existing models of psychotherapeutic practice to coaching, or the practical application of coaching skills in commercial settings, David Gray was able to present his colleagues with well researched, strongly reasoned thinking and practical ideas. This uncommon combination of skills will be missed in the field. Vale David!’Dr Michael Cavanagh, Deputy Director, Coaching Psychology Unit, Sydney University
By Dr Sally Bonneywell and Dr Joanna Molyn
Sally remembers sitting at her desk whilst struggling to write the methodology chapter of her doctorate and needing to find a reference for sampling. So she reached for her go to book, ‘Doing research in the real world’, 3rd Edition (Gray, 2013) and realised that this was David. The David she knew and respected. `When you know the author it brings a different texture to the words you are reading, you can’t help but think of the person who has written them’. She says in David’s case ‘it’s particularly poignant when I pick up that book, because he is no longer with us’.
David made a significant contribution to and was one of the trail blazers in the coaching world. Through his respected books, robust, evidence-based research, and teachings at Surrey and Greenwich Universities in the UK. Also through his voluntary contributions to the coaching professional bodies and coaching system thinktanks, such as The Future of Coaching Collaboration (FCC) and to his friends and colleagues.
We miss David and his inimitable contribution to any meeting, conference and research study. His contribution to the coaching industry was significant. No article can do true justice to the impact that his work, energy and insight, has made on the coaching world, but we wanted to bring together some thoughts and comments from people who worked with him, knew him and had deep respect for him, both academically and personally.
In this article, colleagues recognise the contribution of Professor David Gray to the coaching world in the way he would (hopefully have liked) -factual, caring and with a hint of mischievousness.
The David Gray Coaching Journey
After graduating from the London School of Economics, David embarked on a 13-year teaching career as an economics lecturer, before taking up a post in training and development at the London Stock Exchange. There he was director of a major training development initiative for the UK securities industry. This combination of interests was further reflected in his 20 years at the University of Surrey. He taught Action Consultancy on the MBA and built a work-based learning degree for adult learners in the workplace.
Rigorous and Practical
His major contribution to consultancy and coaching for local businesses, and voluntary organisations, enabled them to identify and work with the key challenges they faced. The feedback from participants greatly praised the rigorous yet practical approach that was the hallmark of David’s work.
His move to the University of Greenwich continued his engagement with business, teaching and research. This was a great move for him, and for the university:
“I was very happy that we were able to attract David to Greenwich in 2012, as I knew about his expertise and standing in the coaching sphere. He made a tremendous contribution, encouraging and supporting early career researchers in particular.”.Jon Sibson, Pro Vice Chancellor Faculty of Business, University of Greenwich
His colleagues at Greenwich appreciated his wisdom and experience and valued his input:
“David was a major inspiration for me to deepen my knowledge and practice in executive coaching and mentoring. His wonderful book ‘A Critical Introduction to Coaching and Mentoring’ (Gray, Garvey and Lane, 2016) was a key source in my Level 7 Coaching diploma and his narrative and critical thinking helped me to achieve Distinction!”Julia Tybura, Visiting Fellow, University of Greenwich.
David was Joanna’s PhD supervisor and a research mentor at the University of Greenwich:
David shaped me as a researcher. He was a dedicated mentor, an amazing researcher, and a fascinating mind. He was an incredible storyteller with a great sense of humour. We had many great conversations over the course of his stay at Greenwich. Apart from my PhD, I worked with him on a Harnisch research grant that we received from the Institute of Coaching and on a large RCT project with Erik de Haan that followed our bid. It was a great pleasure to work with David and I really miss his input and humour.’Dr Joanna Molyn, Oxford Brookes University. UK.
At the forefront of coaching research and professionalizing coaching
David was not satisfied with the status quo in coaching. He was curious to a fault and once he had an idea would follow it through until he could grab hold of it and make sense of it. He believed in the importance of the robustness of research and the power of debate around many things, but coaching in particular:
‘To coaching academics, David Gray stands among the first scholars to have brought the coaching research agenda forward. He was passionately dispassionate about coaching: a passion that included critique. Therefore, his work helped us embrace coaching as a complex and nuanced practice. Especially he discussed social and professional identity, reflective learning, management learning in SMEs. In sum, coaching scholars and practitioners are indebted to David for contributing to establishing coaching as an academic discipline, as well as to the professionalization of the practice.’Pauline Fatien Diochon, Associate Professor, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia.
Doing research in the ‘real world’
David’s ability to understand the rigour required in academic research, and to assess and recognise the importance of application to the ‘real world,’ prompted him to write his highly successful book ‘Doing research in the real world’ which ran to four editions (2009 to 2017).
As David Lane, Visiting Professor, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, remembers:
‘As a researcher and teacher in ‘real world’ research methods he, through his writing and practice, facilitated practitioners to be rigorous in their approach yet realistic about what is possible. Research for him was a servant of practice, as well as the foundation upon which professionalism was based.’
When David turned his energy and attention to the field of coaching and coaching research he did so with integrity, zeal and gusto:
‘David believed fully in the enabling power of coaching making time for others and offering support. He was also an excellent researcher putting these skills to work to improve both the practice of coaching and to develop coaches and the profession’.Professor Mark NK Saunders, University of Birmingham, UK.
Despite his stand out ability as a researcher to marry the conceptual and the practical, he had little time for the superficial ideas bandied about. As David Lane states:
‘David challenged the simplistic and prescriptive accounts in much of the literature. He looked to strip away the hype and find the genuine contribution that coaching and mentoring could make. He sought to unpick exhortations such as ‘build a coaching culture’ by pointing out that this was antagonistic to the dominant discourse of rational pragmatic management. He was particularly concerned that much of the coaching literature ignored the much longer established mentoring research and the implications for cultural development that it enabled.’
Clear thinker, collaborative and an energiser
Sally was privileged to work with David (and Erik) on a research project ‘in the real world’ which included interviewing several people and conducting focus groups in different locations within a global organisation. He undertook this research with enthusiasm and pragmatism. When things went wrong, as they sometimes did – the recorder didn’t record properly, the person didn’t speak English, the fire alarm went off to name but a few…, he was resourceful and pragmatic.
Writing up our research was a collaborative and energising experience. His capacity to write clearly, elegantly and directly was highly impressive, and Sally learned a lot from writing with him. The output of this research was an article which aptly demonstrates David’s interest in gender equality: Coaching the ‘ideal worker’: female leaders and the gendered self in a global corporation D Gray, E De Haan, S Bonneywell – European Journal of Training and Development, 2019 – emerald.com.
Other projects included quantitative and qualitative research, an indication of David’s versatility in both research and writing. For example: Executive Coaching Outcome Research in a Field Setting: A Near-Randomized Controlled Trial Study in a Global Healthcare Corporation E De Haan, DE Gray, S Bonneywell – Academy of Management Education 2019 – journals.aom.org
David was always willing to go the extra mile in supporting others and projects that he deemed important. Be they for the coaching professional bodies, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF) and European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), across the world or practitioner research. For many years he was an active contributor to the FCC as a multi-stakeholder group including representatives from corporates, leading coaching professional bodies in the UK, academia, research institutes and Coaching at Work magazine. The aim being to collaborate, professionalise and innovate to safeguard the coaching profession.
Work done by members of the Forum led to a number of initiatives including a set of comparison tables, comparing coaching professional bodies’ ethos, rationales and philosophies, guidance on best practice, mapping the coaching and technology market and development of the knowledge portal, as a guide to the development of coaching knowledge. David was a founding member of the FCC and always provided a lively challenge to any assertions that couldn’t be backed up by research or ideas he found too impractical.
He also did a lot of good work for the EMCC. As Bob Garvey from The Lio Partnership and Emeritus Professor, York St John University, UK explains:
‘He evaluated the London Deanery Mentoring Programme in the UK. We recently worked on a special edition of a journal together. David liked this project and although he was not able to participate in the later stages, he influenced the design with his insightful contributions at the start. Most of all he was also good company!’Bob Garvey
David Gray — The explorer
Many people told us stories about David, how much fun he liked to have – David didn’t just go to a conference for the presentations, he always made sure to explore the city, the culture and to learn something specific about the location.
As Bob Garvey remembers:
‘I always enjoyed his energy – his work rate was amazing. He was interested in people and history – when we were in Paris for the EURAM conference at which he contributed he took the opportunity to visit various museums. He was interested in working class culture.’
Sally remembers going to Lisbon for the UFHRD Conference a few years ago and a group of us went out to dinner– it was a riotous evening with David regaling many of us of tales from past exploits. At one point I asked him what sessions he was going to attend the next day? He replied he was only going to a few sessions before heading off by train to explore an area he had always wanted to visit. This was far more important and a far greater pull than the academic conference!
We miss David Gray
David was a wonderful man, who cared deeply for others and was always generous with his time and input. When we reached out to people for contribution to this article, the response was immediate and fulsome.
Articles like this will never do justice to the contribution that David made to the world, but we wanted to show our appreciation for him and his work. We leave it up to Erik de Haan, Director of Ashridge Centre for Coaching, UK to have the final word which sums up the sentiments of many of us:
‘As I said on the title page of my 2019 book Critical Moments in Executive Coaching, David Gray was a dear friend and eminent qualitative researcher in coaching who left us far too soon.’
Dr Joanna Molyn
Senior Lecturer in Coaching, Mentoring and Management
Business and Management
Oxford Brookes Business School
Joanna is an academic researcher and a senior lecturer with a background in City finance (Dresdner/Allianz), Organisational Development (OD) and consultancy. Joanna’s research primarily focuses on the effectiveness of coaching. Her PhD examined the role and effectiveness of coaching in increasing students’ self-efficacy and employability efforts.