The Importance of Coaching the Whole Person


I was once told a story about a well-known business school’s approach to training leadership and executive coaches. My colleague told me that during an assessment for their coaching qualification, the client became emotional and cried during the session. Because they had stopped the ‘business’ conversation and were taking time to acknowledge and work with the emotion, they were ‘failed’ on the assessment.

How many times have we seen people express frustration and perhaps even come close to tears, due to a struggling to meet a particularly hard business goal or just having an ‘off’ day? It’s not unusual, especially with the added pressures of the current economic situation. It happens, we are human, we have emotions and it’s unfair to be judged by them.

Many of my clients have at times, become emotional during coaching – this is a normal human behaviour and often happens because of the relief executives and leaders have, in finding a safe space to discuss and work on difficult problems and issues. I would go so far as to say that it is unprofessional to expect any human being, regardless of their seniority at work, to work in an environment where their very ‘humanness’ is ignored. Business coaches must be skilled at facilitating the whole person, to enable optimum development.

As a mental health nurse, teacher and trainer, coach and leadership development specialist, my own career has involved a profound understanding of holistic working. I really enjoy the language of the author Ken Wilbur, in his 2011 book ‘A Brief History of Everything’, which describes why holistic ways of working as a coach is so powerful. Wilbur uses the terms ‘holon’ and ‘holarchy’, to describe interconnectedness.

Holons are a description of all that exists – all that is both a whole and a part. Everything in existence, can be described in terms of whole/part – a holon. For example, an atom is a whole entity of itself, but also a part of a molecule. The molecule is a whole of itself but also a part of a cell, the cell part of an organism, that organism a part of a group, that group a part of a society and so on. Holon not only describes aspects of matter, but also those aspects that cannot be reduced to matter – ideas, feelings, beliefs etc. Everything is both a whole and a part.

Holarchy is used to describe the natural hierarchy of holons – a natural way that holons come together to form a whole. For example, a word is the sum of the parts of its letters; that word may go on to form a sentence, then a paragraph, then a paper, then a book. The letters of the word or a sentence in a paragraph is no more or less important than the paragraph, or the paper or the book – each has their own place in the hierarchy of the whole. As each whole is formed from each holon, the sum is greater than its parts.

I think this language suits the complexity of the person and obviously the leader or executive coming to coaching. It enables a coach to consider the individual – as formed of many parts and forming a part of many wholes. As the whole/part nature of the person is of equal importance, any development work must, by definition, encompass an understanding of and willingness to work with all that this demands.

If the coach works with only that part of the person at work, then the coach will automatically dismiss any influences that arise from the numerous other wholes and parts of the individual’s life. The work will be piecemeal because it fails to represent the totality of their experiences. I would go one step further to say that it would be negligent of the coach to do so – because inevitably any changes made by the individual will certainly impact on other areas of their life. For example, a leader working on assertiveness will not only affect relationships in the work context – they will potentially affect all relationships in all areas of their life. Coaches MUST work with all aspects of humanness because we all come with messy emotions attached!

We offer a range of different coaching styles and methods at Glassmoon, including female specific, executive coaching, speak and language skills, leadership and business development.  Visit our Executive Coaches page to view the coaches and see how they can support your professional growth through coaching.