7 principles of coaching (we stole from philosophy)

By Robert Holmes | coach training

Apr 12
neurocoaching and philosophy

Maybe it’s because I have just finished trying to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s work that I got to thinking about whether philosophy informs coaching. Philosophers tend to be deep thinking and, oftentimes, shy individuals who inhabit academic spaces like universities. I didn’t imagine they’d have much to say about high performance or good insight into solving issues. I was wrong. What I discovered is that philosophers have offered up some of the most fundamental ideas about human potential, performance and purpose. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that coaching’s seven best ideas are plundered shamelessly from philosophy. So here, in no particular order are the big seven…

1. Pleasure and Pain – the big drivers of behaviour

Plato, the Grecian philosopher-teacher established the first institution for higher learning (the Academy of Athens). In arguments with Socrates, he first articulated that humans fundamentally pursue happiness (pleasure) and evade pain. These principles, he said, drove much of our behaviour. He might just have been the first coach.

2. Perception involves filtering and interpretation

Aristotle, Plato’s disciple then proposed that all knowledge and understanding are based on our powers of perception. He understood that each of us have a different experience of the same event, that we have the power to change or ‘re-perceive’ our experiences. Again, these are ideas we rely on heavily in coaching.

3. Cause and effect (above the line and below the line)

Immanuel Kant, the Prussian born philosopher was the first to articulate that cause and effect are essential to the human experience, and that our understanding of the world is conveyed to us by our five senses and interpreted ‘from within’.

4. The centrality of choice and freedom

Søren Kierkegaard, Danish theologian and philosopher was the one who came up with objective vs subjective truths. He also said that most of our suffering and anxiety was caused by not seeing choice, understanding that we always have freedom and that we cannot really say yes, until we have been also able to say no.

5. Self awareness is the key to understanding and change

John Locke, English physicist and philosopher established the method of introspection, becoming aware of our emotions, reactions and the resulting behaviors we chose as a response. He pioneered methods of better understanding of the self – leading inevitably to the practise of modern psychology.

6. Beliefs create meaning create behaviours

Indian activist, lawyer and philosopher Mohandas Gandhi was the one who observed that people’s behaviours stem from their values – the beliefs and ideals we hold inside – and that these inform the meaning we make of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

7. There is always 1% more

Stanford PhD psychologist Carol Dweck was the one who formulated the now famous concept of a fixed vs growth mindset. This coaching idea is that intelligence is always developing, and we can always learn and change. Taken across to high performance athletics or business – there is always 1% more to be found, gained, learned and improved upon.


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About the Author

Robert is an expert in the science of human behaviour and performance enhancement with a passion for neurology, leadership and the psychology of potential. He believes it is important to bring hard science to coaching, and that coaching practices be evidence based and research backed. Robert is a founding partner at Frazer, Holmes Coaching and current Director of Brand and Marketing for the International Coach Federation Australasia (ICFA). Robert is a professionally certified coach (PCC) with over 20 years of business experience and an ICF Accredited Mentor Coach. He is an Associate at the National Speaker's Association, a member of the Coaching Psychology interest group at the APS, a certified Action Learning Coach, a Member of the Australian Institute of Management Consultants.