This is the first of a series of articles that will explore the current concepts of coaching and human development.  In particular, the article will examine some of the key elements that make up Integral Coaching, the current leading method of coaching and it will examine why Integral Coaching is so powerful and effective.

Before we begin, it is important to note that this is my personal take on Integral Theory and Integral Coaching, my comments express my own opinions and visions about these two fields of thought (coaching and integral theory) and how Integral Coaching can contribute to the effective and sustainable development of individuals, groups and organizations.  My goal is to shed light onto some of the contemporary issues with coaching and how Integral Coaching, when applied, can help alleviate said issues.

For an in depth view on Integral Theory, please refer to Ken Wilber’s books. He is the founding father of Integral Theory. For Integral Coaching please refer to the ‘Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Spring 2009, Volume 4, Number 1, Integral Coaching’, for articles of the founders of Integral Coaching Canada, Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt. Their articles will give you a complete academic based view on it, also please refer to their website for detailed information on Integral Coaching Canada’s programs –

To properly introduce Integral Coaching we need first to address what is ‘Integral’ and what is ‘Coaching’.

Let’s use Ken Wilber’s definition for the word Integral:

“The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches are ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.”

The second natural step is to ask what is coaching?

According to the ICF (International Coaching Federation) coaching ‘focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change’.

There is a natural association of the word ‘coach’ to sports, someone that supervises, set goals, and trains a learner to achieve his/her goals.

To understand coaching in these terms, one could also define coaching by distinguishing it from other personal or organizational support professions. In other words, coaching is not by definition: therapy, consulting, mentoring, training or athletic development.

To put it simply coaching, is about change. Change that you want to bring about in your personal or professional life, change that brings us to fuller and freer expressions of ourselves, change that is meaningful to you.

So, now we know that in a nutshell Integral means ‘all-encompassing and all embracing’ and that Coaching is all about ‘change’. This means that Integral Coaching is an all-encompassing system that supports change processes.

As I mentioned above, in order to fully grasp what this system means and how it works we have to take it one step at a time.  The first concept we need to examine now is how Coaching can work inside an Integral framework.

Ken Wilber defined the foundation of Integral Theory by outlining a 4-D (four dimensions) perspective model that can integrate all fields of study and by which any phenomena can be observed.

We will start on the first layer of this Integral 4-D model putting Coaching at its center, using it as a ‘phenomena’ to be observed by this 4-D model. Think about in terms of lenses. Imagine that you will be looking at Coaching through four different lenses and by looking through each of those lenses you will see different aspects of the coaching phenomena.

four quadrants

We will also investigate what kind of coaching practices are typical of each lens we look through.

I will name these four lenses we will use to look at Coaching as: Inside Us, Outside Us, Inside Relationships, and Outside Relationships.

Let’s start with the upper right area of the image above. There are coaches that were trained to look mostly through the ‘Outside Us’ lens.

‘Outside Us’ are the things we can see, measure, manage and do. When coaches work mostly with this lens with you as a client, you have hired someone to help you change or improve your abilities to get things done! In order for that to happen the coach supports you in developing a new set of skills and behaviors so you can achieve your goals. This is the case that I jokingly call the ‘the project manager coach’ situation.

The ‘project manager coach’ will give you tasks, to do lists, and set you challenging goals and if you are not committed enough, well “you should be!” Getting yourself motivated is your own problem and just a matter of accountability.  Although these types of coaches can be very well versed in productivity tools they may lack skills in dealing with their client’s inner challenges like lack of motivation, lack of clarity or purpose and not knowing how to deal when resistance to change comes up, common themes in any coaching process.

Moving to the ‘Inside Us’ lens, the upper left area of the graph, are all the things that shape who we are, and in there we find all the ‘whys’ about why we do what we do. Our beliefs, mindset and how we feel in a given situation can determine a great deal about us leaning towards doing one activity or engaging in a certain relationship.

Coaches that look through this lens most of their time become the ‘investigator coach’ helping you gain clarity about your life’s purpose, your mission in life, which are your limiting beliefs, what you think you can do or what you think you can’t, and also support you in becoming a better ‘knower’ of yourself, how do you feel during certain events, which emotions you sit with at ease and which ones triggers you.

All important themes to be addressed, but in a excessive way the coaching process can become very insightful but not action driven giving the client a great deal of satisfaction about discovering many layers of him/herself but with very little capacity about making the change the client wants.

Let’s go now for the lower left area of the graph, the ‘Inside Relationships’ lens.

I’ve met many coaches and clients that really enjoy working in this area. Sharing, communicating and mutual understanding can be very powerful allies to inspire a client for change, but when coaches spend most of their time using this lens this we have the ‘thinking partner coach’ situation.

Sessions with this type of coach you might love! The coach really listens to what you have to say without a fixed agenda, has empathy and makes you feel ok about sharing anything, there is no moral judgment and ‘the whole that you are’ is completely welcome.

The risk in this situation is co-dependency. The client feds from the coach warm-heartedness and keeps coming back for more, but since there are no clear targets the process can ramble on forever without expressive results for the client.

The last lens is the ‘Outside Relationships’ or lower right area of the graph. In this area we find all the systems, processes, routines and strategies that can be put in place or the roles you can fulfill to achieve your goals, it’s about everything we can see from an outside perspective but that is also commonly shared.

Coaches that work mostly using this lower right lens tend to use a lot of pre-defined models, assessments and frameworks to design a coaching program for a client. Usually you are required to fill in forms and do tests so the coach can better assess your personality type and your skill levels.

Most organizations today use a certain type of assessment tool to gain clarity about their employees, if they are at the right workplace, department, team or project and also as means to support them in their developmental paths as managers and leaders in the company.

Some common examples include: MBTI (Myers-Briggs Jung personality types), DISC Theory (Dr. Willian Marston), Enneagram Theory (Riso-Hudson), Human Dynamics Theory (Sandra Seagal) and many other typological approaches will fit in here.

The ‘assessment coach’ may proudly show you how they have all the best tools of the trade. By combining all of them they can provide you reliable information about why you are not achieving what you want, what skills you need to develop and which environments will be the best fit for you.

For some clients, to have all this scientific-methodological-based information may not add value at all.  Frequently, myself and other coaches have been told how clients felt it as a cold process, lacking kindness, empathy and connection, turning the coaching program very little enticing for them.

Looking at the Coaching process through these four different lenses can tell us a lot about how the coach you’ve considered to hire will support you in your personal or professional developmental path and how he/she will conduct and design your coaching program.

Integral Coaches will consider all these four lenses when working with you. They have the expertise to guide you through all these four areas asking powerful questions that will build your ability to see yourself, to see your life under a 4-D perspective or as we all call it, under an Integral Map.

In this way you will be seeing yourself integrally, not partially, you will understand better what change means to you not taking for granted all the unique aspects that are a part of the unique being that you are.

The Integral 4-D perspective is the first of a series of lenses that an Integral Coach uses. It is also the foundation of Integral Theory.

As Ken Wilber pointed out Integral Theory allow us “to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches”. Applying the same premise to Coaching, can you imagine what you would achieve if other lenses can be combined to fine tune your coaching program?

Integral Coaching uniqueness comes from understanding that the first step for individual change to occur it needs to be supported by an all-encompassing Integral View, if a coaching approach sole focus is to use just one lens it is incomplete and partial it has an end in itself and will not be able to sustain change over time.

In the next article of this series, I will address how Integral Coaches ‘look at’ the client and how they have developed the keen ability to ‘look as’ the client.

Matheus Ferreira

Matheus Ferreira

Matheus is an integral professional coach, trainer, writer, lecturer and a passionate musician. He has over fifteen years of experience conducting leadership development programs for executives in global and multinacional companies and is the Executive Director of Metacoaching, LLC in Denver, CO
Matheus Ferreira

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