“Nick, is coaching a fad?” I was asked recently.
There was no malice to the question, no attempt to suggest that it was. Just a genuine curiosity. A different, but related, question I am increasingly fascinated by is my own double-barrelled question: why coaching, why now? I think to the latter answers the former. If we assume that most societal and cultural things happen for some reason and within some context, that they are reflective of the conditions from which they emerge, then there’s something about the 21st century that makes coaching vital and meaningful. But what and why? When I first became a coach in 2000, I took it for granted that the principles coaching was based upon were self-evident. Self-empowerment, choice, the ability to direct one’s life, the concept of human potential, usefulness of a fellow enquirer, the power of reflection and action combined. These are obviously good things? Yet these weren’t always self-evident. It wasn’t so long ago that what counted wasn’t self-agency but external authority. What mattered wasn’t choice but tradition. What mattered wasn’t standing out but fitting in. But look around. That time has gone. The world has moved on. We are surrounded by opportunity and choice in every corner of our life. And even where the choice isn’t immediate, its future possibility is thrust at us by advertising and, of course, the internet. Social media is a playground of self-defining behaviours where Facebook, Periscope, Blab and Snapchat are making everybody their own personal brand. This is no fad, no accident of technology whose bubble will pop. Nor is it some temporary glitch in society. This is the coming together of technology, philosophies of post-modernism and social constructionism, of holocracy in leadership. This is the age of the constructed self in relation to the world at a level never experienced before. The signs were there in the 20th Century with the rise of psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology, the human potential movement, positive psychology. Each phase giving way to greater notions of autonomy. So is coaching a fad? No! It is a reflection of all of this. It’s a result of the empowered, confused, dissatisfied, anxious, emboldened, celebrated self confronting complexity, choice and uncertainty. We increasingly need a space to explore our selves which is not merely introspective, but as Roman Krznaric calls it, outrospective – a space that integrates inner work with outer action. Coaching is not a fad. It’s an almost inevitable evolution of the professions that have so long focused on illness and dysfunction. Coaching is, I believe, the current manifestation of the age-old question that finds its place in any society – how do we live well? Coaching will change, of course, but it won’t disappear. Unless the world inexplicably turns back a hundred years, coaching is needed and it’s here to stay.