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A Whole Person Approach to Coaching

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Yet focusing on performance alone is unlikely to enable and sustain the level of transformation required for the pace and complexity of today’s world.

Meaningful and lasting change for both individual and organisation is, in my experience, only brought about by engaging with the whole person – head, heart and soul.

It requires courage to work at a deeper level as a coach – and as a client. It makes us vulnerable in ways that may be unfamiliar.

And it also takes great courage in the commissioning organisation, for it empowers clients to influence new cultures benefiting people as well as bottom line results, rather than simply enabling individuals to fit into an unhealthy culture, or in some cases perpetuating it.

My Masters research into a Whole Person Learning approach to coaching showed that a WPL approach flourishes when the organisational context allowed freedom to work with the whole person.

Here’s an insight into some of my findings:

“Going beyond the issues being presented by the client was made possible by the strength, depth and trust of the peer relationship. Coaching the ‘leader in life’ is more powerful than just the ‘leader in work’. You can’t separate people from their contexts, their history, their personal as well as work lives. You have to work with everything the person brings. The impact and benefits of having the freedom within an organisational contract to work in this way were evident in my research.

“A distinguishing element of the WPL coach was that making explicit the ‘not knowing’ of the coach in the coaching relationship models the whole person approach and reinforces a peer relationship.

“What I noticed was that the sharing by the coach of what is not known is seen as valuable and allowed the relationship to become more peer based – a levelling of the relationship, which opened the door for more challenging discussions. This provided a development opportunity for the client to work within a more peer-based relationship mirroring the culture that the organisation wanted to develop.

“The preparedness to show some level of vulnerability as a coach allowed for the coach to ‘be with’ as well as ‘be for’ the client. The openness of approach and degree to which vulnerability was allowed by both parties was evident in my study suggesting this was a core element of the WPL approach.

“For the coaches in my study, the on-going development of themselves was crucial to their practice. The deep understanding of their own inner self, and acceptance of their own vulnerabilities could be argued is a necessity for a successful ‘whole person approach.’

“I concluded that this holistic, relational and transformative approach had a significant impact on individuals and the move towards a distributed leadership environment and that this would add to the theory and practice of coaching and mentoring particularly within the context of distributed leadership in organisational settings.

I co-facilitate the Coaching and Mentoring with Head, Heart and Soul programme with Glyn Fussell. This programme takes a Whole Person Learning approach to coaching, developing the developer to help others.

Glyn says: “This way of working is significantly different from anything I have experienced before. For me this is a radical peer-to-peer approach, working through and out of relationships and goes way beyond the known. Working with the whole person rather than relying on a well-trodden framework or approach represents a new paradigm and is what makes this so exciting.”

On this programme, participants come from a wide range of organisations including private, housing association and health and social care sectors. This diverse mix fosters a highly creative and enquiring environment, making the peer-based learning approach even more dynamic and potent.

A self and peer assessment (SAPA) process for participants sees them evaluate themselves against indicators, and also via the feedback received from clients, other participants and the facilitators. SAPA is a challenging and transparent means of giving and receiving feedback.

At its heart, I have found that a WPL approach is not so much a model as an approach that calls for people to be more fully human, both as a coach and as the client. This enables the development of a deep relationship and creates an environment for transformational change and development.