Integral Coaching – the future of Executive Coaching?

Joanna Bown, Executive Coaching, January 2019

Executive coaching is playing a bigger role than ever in the career development of senior executives and CEOs. Now a $2bn industry, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates there to be 1,500 new coaches worldwide every year.

However, the expansion of any industry comes with its challenges, and the executive coaching industry is no exception. Not least amongst these challenges is the proliferation of methodologies in what is still an unregulated worldwide industry. Between 2014 and 2017 Peer Resources recognized a growth in professional coaching associationsfrom 23 to 36, and counting. So, how do we know what works and which methods are likely to win-out as the most sustainable in the future?

One contender is ‘integral coaching’, which is finding success due to its more holistic approach and its use of philosophies from both East and West. While that may give it more of a ‘life coaching’ ring, it is still very much executive coaching – it is just more comprehensive and humanistic in its application than the average corporate coaching method – and in its conception of what it takes to be a successful executive.

The prime example of this ‘comprehensiveness’ is the way in which integral coaches include everything about the client and the client’s world in their coaching – not just their corporate life. This includes what the client is aware of in their environment – both personal and corporate; and what their potential might be once they learn to become more fully aware of their environment i.e. how they operate in the world and the cause and effect of their actions. And whereas other coaching methodologies focus more on superficial behaviors, integral coaching looks at the causes of those behaviors, whether emotional, cultural etc.

Integral coaches encourage their clients to fully investigate their social world, habits and relationships. They look at the body, the quality of self-care, the amount of attention and energy available to take on any change, and much more outside of just the superficial presentation of the person. This deeper and more personally informed awareness allows for greater change and growth in the client, as well as the increased likelihood that the client can self-manage this growth after the coaching has ended.

It also takes into account context – the context of the individual’s life, both professional and personal. And in doing its prime goal is not to change the individual (that comes later), but simply to make them more aware – aware of their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and intentions as well as everything that is happening to them physically and emotionally. Integral coaching considers context and environment important because they include the language(s) we speak, the culturally specific practices we engage in, and the history of the groups we belong to. By understanding these elements, we are more likely to understand – and change where necessary – our motivations and the motivations of those around us.

Ultimately, an integral coach’s goal is to train their clients in the ability to self-observe and self-correct, and therefore to self-generate. Addressing the inner and outer world of the individual along with the inner and outer world of the groups of which they are a part of, creates a much bigger framework in which the coaching can occur.

If all this sounds a little bit like philosophy and not like coaching to you, integral coaching is also very applied – it looks for the same measurements and goals that every executive is looking for – the difference is that integral coaches look for long-term sustained excellence rather than just short-term goals that may not, in the long-term, be sustainable without real awareness and corresponding change. When we are self-correcting, we have the capacity to notice discrepancies between what we intend and the actual outcomes, between our values and our actual actions, and then bridge the gap. And when clients become self-correcting, they are no longer dependent upon a coach.

Are the driven executives of the business world ready for such sustained self-analysis? Maybe not all of them, but certainly a fast-increasing number of them. And as we move into a bolder, potentially brighter future – from political leaders to blue chip CEOs – we could all do with a bit more awareness of how we operate in the world, and how that might lead us to both understand and achieve what real success looks and feels like.