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Philosophical Foundations of Coaching: Ontology

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The movement from an objectivist to a constructivist ontology and from a static to a dynamic ontology requires commitment and courage—particularly courage. Our sense of self and reality—our ontological reality—is always in flux. How do we live with this ontological uncertainty? The remarkable theologian, Paul Tillich (2000) has written  about the existential (and theological) “courage to be”—the courage needed to acknowledge one’s being and one’s becoming in the world. If human beings are minds, and not just brains, then they are also inherently spiritual in nature or at least there are spiritual demands being made on them as they are confronted with the challenging universe in which they live.

As spiritual beings, we have the capacity to reflect on our own experiences and to place these experiences in space and time. This is the human challenge, the human opportunity and the human curse of transcendence. Our sense of a constantly reconstructed universe, based in our interactions with other people, leads us inevitably to a sense of bewilderment. At a more immediate level, we are confronted as leaders and coaches with the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of contemporary organizational life. How does one find the courage to stand in the face of this “awe-full-ness”? And more to the point, what is the role to be played by organizational coaches in assisting their clients (as well as facing their own personal challenges)?

Note of Appreciation: We wish to acknowledge the contributions made by not only Julio Olalla, but also our colleague, Agnes Mura, co-author with Bergquist of Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches (Bergquist and Mura, 2005).


Bergquist W., & Brock, V. (2008). Coaching and leadership in the six cultures of contemporary organizations. In D. Drake, D. Brennan, &K. Gørtz (Eds.), The philosophy and practice of coaching (277-298). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bergquist, W., & Mura, A. (2005). Ten themes and variations for postmodern leaders and their coaches. Sacramento, CA: Pacific Soundings Press.

Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.

D. Drake, Brennan, D. & Gørtz, K. (2008) The philosophy and practice of coaching . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003) Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Olalla, J and Bergquist, W. (2008) Interview with Julio Olalla. International Journal of Coaching in Organizations. No. 3.

Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Penguin.

Rose, S. (2005). The future of the brain. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schön, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Tillich, P. (2000). The courage to be (2nd Ed.). New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.


William Bergquist, Ph.D.

Bill Bergquist has offered professional coaching services since 1973. As author of forty four books and more than fifty articles, Bill continues to be interested in the dynamics of profound individual, group, organizational and societal transformations. He has coached and consulted with corporate, human service, educational, and religious organizations throughout North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Having served as President of The Professional School of Psychology (PSP) for the past 23 years, Bill is now concentrating on building a distinctive doctoral tutorial program at PSP that blends intensive in-person and virtual at-a-distance interaction between tutor and mature, accomplished student.

Kristin Teresa Eggen, M.A.

Kristin Teresa Eggen has offered professional coaching services since 2005. She is a trained journalist specializing on in-depth articles. Receiving a Masters of Arts degree in the field of religious science, Eggen specialized on New Age religion and identity crisis in our era of post-modernity. Her thesis was named “I once was lost, but now I’ve found: Religious identity in Post-modernity.” Kristin Teresa is still driven by a deep feeling of curiosity – a need of finding out, where the organization’s or person’s narrative comes from, what does it mean, and what would happen if the narrative changed? As a coach, she is working in small and big organizations, mainly in creative media companies.

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