What's in a name? That which we call a Coach (Part 2) by Yvonne Thackray

Part 2: Developing the field of coaching

The Human Potential Movement and Positive PsychologyRecognising the relevance of sports coaching to executive coaching, I now trace how the coaching field developed starting from the Human Potential Movement (HPM) from which two well-known categories of coaching have emerged: life coaching (achieving personal goals in life) and executive coaching (achieving personal and professional goals at work). They overlap in the concept of the intimate private sphere and the impersonal, cold and aloof public life as defined by Sennett’s book The Fall of Public Man (1974). Transformation in society has resulted in the merging of the private sphere with the public sphere, bringing in intimate topics like love, passion, family and autonomy into a logical-rational environment. Coaching as a management tool was brought into organisations via the Human Resource department either as personal development programs that contained various degrees of HPM, or through secular disciplines, in particular psychology and management consulting.  For the remainder of this section I focus on executive coaching in which executive coaches are paid by organisations rather than the client (in their personal and professional development).

Human Potential Movement

The Human Potential Movement (HPM) was an influential experimental rebellion against the mainstream psychology, organised religion, and stagflation[1] of the sixties and seventies[2]. The 1960s marked the beginning of a period of rapid social change with no fear of unemployment[3], and an explosion of rebellious creativity and experimentation. It led to one of the most significant and influential counterculture movements, which rapidly expanded from the margins into mainstream society, in the arena of personal development, emotional literacy, and human values in the workplace called ‘therapeutic culture[4]’. It is a dominating influence from the day-to-day level through to public policy,

Secularisation is also important during this specific period of modernity in Western cultures. The public sphere provided the locus for the success of HPM via humanistic psychology and spirituality (Sutcliffe & Bowman 2000; Williams 2008). Maslow developed a more optimistic, holistic theory based on health and happiness that emphasised choice and values after the basic survival needs and psychological issues are solved i.e. self-actualization. Spirituality, as an alternative to organised Western religions and an extension of self-actualization, is an attractive proposition for modern individualists seeking transcendence or meaningful experience that is based on subjective experiences and psychological growth mixed with mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions (Puttick 2000). A more recent approach is the integral model of Ken Wilber and others, that offers a holistic and multidimensional view of the various modalities for understanding human development that evolves with the mental, physical, spiritual and social (Wilber 2001; Beck & Cowan 2005).

HPM trades in personal development, and whilst being ‘largely pro-business and entrepreneurial’ (Puttick 2000:211) it found its way into both the public and private sectors, the professions, and education by offering and delivering training courses and coaching.  Most of the training and coaching does not focus on spirituality directly, though the values may be implicit and shared when the client is ready. Combining spirituality, personal development, and business impacts business philosophy. Management consultants utilise the psychological and spiritual techniques as their competitive edge in delivering successful change management programs. On the other hand, failure is almost guaranteed during restructuring programmes by organisations whose chief executives or senior leader do not share or practices these values.

[1] Stagflation is the combination of high inflation and mass unemployment.

[2] This included the media coverage of successive economic crises including the Vietnam War, the Arab embargo (oil), assassination, financing of the Great Society welfare, as well as the success of Apollo 11 (first man on the moon) and advances in computer technology

[3] State-led Keynesian capitalism after the World War was the most successful period of economic management, in terms of standard of living, technological progress and financial stability and full employment policies.

[4] For more see Furedi 2003 and Swan 2010.


Beck, D.E. & Cowan, C., 2005. Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, Wiley-Blackwell.

Puttick, E., 2000. Personal Development: the Spiritualisation and Secularistion of the Human Potential Movement. In S. Sutcliffe & M. Bowman, eds. Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality. Edingburgh University Press, pp. 201–219.

Sennett, R., 2003. The Fall of Public Man Paperback, Penguin.

Sutcliffe, S. & Bowman, M., 2000. Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality S. Sutcliffe & M. Bowman, eds., Edingburgh University Press.

Wilber, K., 2001. A Theory of Eveything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality, Gateway.

Williams, P., 2008. The Life Coach Operating System: Its Foundation in Psychology. In D. Brennan, D. Drake, & K. Gortz, eds. The Philosophy and Practice of Coaching: Insights and Issues for a New Era. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 3–26.