Socrates – the world’s first coach?

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As our first Blog, it seemed logical and in some way honourable to start with a Blog on the history and origin of coaching.

Many people believe that coaching began, fairly informally, in businesses sometime between the 1930s and 1960s, evolving out of root disciplines through the 20th Century as eloquently outlined by Vikki Brock in her book: Sourcebook of Coaching History, 2012.

However, I was recently struck by the similarity between the Socratic Method and coaching. The Socratic Method was pioneered by Socrates, who was told that he was the wisest man in Greece. He felt this was a paradox, and began to teach his students by asking them questions rather than telling them answers.

Of course, Socrates’ method was as much about philosophy as business, but it still holds much in common with coaching. Socrates believed that questions could stimulate thinking and illuminate ideas. Just like coaching, he also pioneered a very practical form of philosophy, with theoretical ideas discussed and challenged in the context of examples from everyday life.

The best source of information about the Socratic Method is from The Socratic Dialogues, which are available online. Indeed, within the dialogues there’s so much in common with coaching it’s hard to believe that Socrates was questioning and challenging back in 5th century BC!

So what do you do the next time someone infers that coaching is a fad? Just let them know it’s already 2,400 years old.