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A Developmental Perspective in Coaching

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[This article was originally published in The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 2008, Issue #3. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of John Lazar, co-founder and editor of IJCO. The complete third issue of IJCO in 2008 can be found by clicking on the Download button below.]

The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara is among a small cadre of coach training and learning organizations in North America emerging in the late 80’s and early 90’s, each with roots in specific fields of study and applied theoretical orientations. Like others, the Hudson Institute began building its coach training and education programs when the term ‘coaching’ was largely understood in the sports arena and the nascent field of coaching was frontier territory at the cross- section of leadership and organizational development, human development, behavioral change, consulting psychology and various philosophical domains. As the profession matures, the author and other members of the Hudson Institute are able to appreciate the diversity and richness of multidimensional roots and the value of a broad pool of theoretical orientations informing this burgeoning field of coaching. This introductory article reflects that diversity and richness.

Coaching has emerged at a unique time in history; few new professions have been born into such a change-dominated world. In the past, professionals have always functioned with a set of basic skills and concepts that they use repeatedly throughout their careers (medicine, law, finance). Coaching is radically different in that it has emerged as a field that, as its central function, facilitates change and development. For this reason alone it’s imperative that our profession has a coherent and explicit understanding of how change happens and how we support and leverage continuous change at the intersection of development.

At the Hudson Institute, our primary theoretical roots are in adult development, human systems thinking and change theory. Development is an ongoing process for the individual that is inextricably embedded in all levels of human systems, ranging from the internal system of self to the broader systems of teams, organizations, and extending beyond into cultures and today’s global forces. Development throughout our adult years as leaders, managers and individuals is at the heart of growth and change in all facets of our humanness and at all levels of human systems.

Our foundation in this broad domain began well before the field of coaching emerged. Co-founder Frederic Hudson served as the founding president of The Fielding Graduate University in the 70’s and 80’s, a learning organization whose mission was in providing graduate degrees to midlife adults through an innovative, self-directed learning model that embraced the inter- section of change and development in the learning paradigm.

Many of these concepts and perspectives continue to be evidenced in our work at the Hudson Institute today. At Fielding, Hudson gathered together a group of senior mentors, guides and colleagues dedicated to the understanding of change management, human development and adult development and learning in order to successfully pioneer an innovative approach to adult learning. The list included Malcolm Knowles, father of adult learning; Robert Tannenbaum, UCLA professor, organizational guru, author of several books on change inside organizations; Edgar Schien and his well known process consul- tation model; Richard Beckhard, OD guru and author; Marjorie Lowenthal Fiske, well known developmentalist and researcher on intentionality; Fred Jacobs, founder of Leslie College and innovator in adult learning; Robert Goulding, MD, founder of Redecision psychotherapy; Art Chickering, PhD, professor and author who taught us that learning changes as we develop; social scientist, Nevitt Sanford, and so many more influencers – Vivian McCoy, Carol Gilligan, Daniel Levinson, along with the earlier work of many theorists and researchers including Robert Kegan, Jean Piaget, and Abraham Maslow.

Development throughout the course of our lives as individuals, systems, and organizations has been researched and under- stood through the many lenses of this stellar list and far more. From the seminal concept of individuation articulated from the perspectives of Neitzsche, Freud, Jung and more, to Erikson’s and Levinson’s age and stage theories, to Piaget’s and Kegan’s conception of levels of development, Corey’s work on team and group development, and Flamholtz’s work on the developmental trajectory of an organization – all of these works provide us with an important window into the developmental process of the human journey in the context of our many human systems.

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