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17 AUGUST 2008
The role of coaching in Leadership Development
by Dennis Jackson

For many in leadership roles the world has become more complex given the level of uncertainty. It is not only lonely on the top, it is also scary.

Competition has become fiercer, including that of human capital, the pace of change has reached unprecedented levels, technology development continues unabated, local / global markets and cultural diversity have their own challenges, and the influences of different generations in the workplace is fear provoking. This has resulted in a rethink of the way organisations are led, and more and more business leaders have realised that the soft issues i.e. the recognition of people as human beings are their greatest opportunities.

Many in leadership roles have been embracing the concept of values in their organisational culture but few have been successful in driving a values-based culture in a practical sense by ‘walking the talk’.

Values-based organisations

To build a values-based environment, means transforming not only the organisation but the people who lead it. For a start, the leaders themselves have to reflect on their own lives and review their own values through their existing belief systems, desires, perspectives and actions. It is this very act that most leaders have difficulty with. For organisations to change toward a values-based result, requires leaders to start operating at a higher level of consciousness. This implies that leaders need to move from “self interest” to “common purpose” before their organisations can. For many this will require outside intervention as the change required may be fundamental and uncomfortable. This is where coaching can play a role. Coaching plays a support role in assisting talented and aspiring people become more aware of their role and their purpose in an integrated way so they are able to take full advantage of their potential and ability. As the saying goes: “I can live a life of many or I can live a life of one – MINE” and it does not change whether if it is in an organisation or playing a leadership role or simply being a human being. The model below helps show the linkage between organisational shifts, leadership role and personal transformation:

Aligning organisational and leadership needs through individual transformation

How the model interacts

Most organisations have realised that making money; ensuring that processes, systems, policy and procedures are in place; connecting with their clients, suppliers and employees and being the biggest and the best is no longer good enough. Sustainability in the long term means more than that and it requires tapping into the “softer planes” of the business consciousness. Greater connection is required in giving business meaning and purpose and finding ways to truly engage with its employees, community as well as society. It means a greater sense of using “values” to achieve greater common purpose. This is even more so in the public sector given the role of government towards sustainability, especially in the areas of community development, society upliftment and the protection of our environment.

In the same way that the development of leaders in organisations needs to reflect the way the organisation intends pursing its long-term sustainability objectives, different levels of consciousness are necessary as leaders develop their span and depth of influence by taking on bigger portfolios of businesses and people responsibility. Each step of leadership growth requires giving up on some things and taking on new things and it includes that which is tangible, for example: power, domination, control, bureaucracy etc., and to embrace intangibles like: empowerment, facilitation, integration and so forth - moving from “doing” to also embracing the “being”².

Ultimately it is the leaders themselves that require transformation into higher levels of being from which they invariable influence the organisations. This means not only understanding the close connection between organisational and personal changes but their impact on the organisation’s future growth and sustainability. The future of human kind is dependent on leaders and organisations being integral in operating across all levels of consciousness.

Hence, for business and leadership transformations to take place, leaders need to change from within. The reality is that unless leaders transform themselves, the embracing of values in organisations will remain a concept. Those leaders who have been successful have realised that organisations don’t change, people do. Far greater is the challenge that nothing changes until “I” do, and crossing the bridge may be the biggest fear / hurdle. From an integral or ontological coaching perspective the focus is to tap into latent ability so that leaders are able to perform at levels where they are more aware of themselves and their environment. More importantly is that their actions do not only draw on the doing input but include the being input. It is not about being right or wrong, it is the process involved in getting there.

The role of the environment cannot be ignored and the role it plays can be as important to the personal transformation undertaken.

Integral / Ontological Coaching and what is it all about?

Integral / Ontological coaching has a very rich history and dates back to ancient Greece. Ontology is the study of the being and is based on the nature of existence and structure of our reality. During the 20th century, significant development took place through the integration of the biology of cognition, existential philosophy and philosophy of language to form the basis of professional coaching. To the lay person this means that the core working domains for integral / ontological coaching are emotions, body and language. Much of this work was the result of Fernando Flores in his doctoral thesis called Management and Communication in the office of the future. More importantly, it is the fusion of integral / ontological coaching i.e. the Philosophy of the Being into the Philosophy of Business in a practical and realistic way that provides the grounding for rich pickings in growing and learning as a human being in both professional and personal life.³

Where to from here?

Given our history, the transformation and our future potential, it is imperative that we build a leadership cadre that will be able to operate not only locally but globally. However, we still face many challenges in our people development let alone leadership and until we provide our future talent with support, our training is not going to be sufficient. “I don’t know what I don’t know and what I don’t know does not exist.” It is on this proviso that integral / ontological coaching can assist in expanding one’s possibilities into the unknown in a way where one is exposed to vulnerability in a non threatening environment. There are two ways to adult learning outside of formal education: one is you make the mistake or the other is to work with a coach who can help facilitate in expanding your world of awareness and possibilities.

Life is too short not to live life to the fullest


  1. Richard Barrett, Liberating the Corporate Soul – Building a Visionary Organisation
  2. James Flaherty, Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others
  3. Alan Sieler, Coaching to the Human Soul

Dennis Jackson BComm.CAIB(SA).MBL.PCC is the managing member of Nirvana Consulting as well as an internationally certified and accredited integral coach. He spent twenty years in corporate, several of them as an executive. He now works with leaders in both the private and public sectors and offers a wide range of coaching services. He can be contacted on info@nirvanaconsulting.co.za or 083 647 1573.


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