Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching
March 5, 2021

Why Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching is needed

By Paul Laughlin

Over 20 years ago, I was first introduced to the field of Psychosynthesis when attending a course on “Inner Leadership“. Our trainers were the brilliant Simon Smith & David England and they introduced me to some of the concepts of Psychosynthesis via an exercise on subpersonalities.

At its simplest, this was the recognition that we are not just one consistent personality. Rather, in different contexts & due to a range of other factors we can reveal quite different personalities. Some we may value, others less so. However, awareness of them all & the opportunity to broker a conversation about their different needs can be helpful. That is what I experienced in an exercise involving making & wearing different paper masks. Emotions experienced then have stayed with me to this day.

In a new book Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching, author Aubyn Howard reveals how much more there is to this field & why it is relevant for leaders today. This book is not always an easy read, but I agree with Aubyn’s central argument, that it is a consistent philosophy for leadership coaching that is very relevant to times of crisis (like today).

What is Psychosynthesis?

That is not an easy question to answer simply. Very briefly it is a branch of psychology founded by Roberto Assagioli (a contemporary of Freud, Jung & Maslow). It recognizes the role of spirituality, imagination & desire in addition to the traditional psychological functions in Jung’s model. It can also be considered a philosophy. One that concerns itself with understanding the Self & the Will in addition to other elements of our being. It is a complex subject to simplify but at its core seeks to achieve an internal synthesis & empower our sense of free will to choose.

Having said this is not an easy book to read, that is really because of the breadth of ambition for this book & Aubyn’s depth of knowledge. For instance to help the novice get their head around what is meant by psychosynthesis he takes multiple approaches. There are numerous history lessons, helping us better understand Assagioli’s work & the foundations of this approach.

Aubyn also includes 3 chapters with the title “Personal & Professional“. These build on the historical & theoretical content, through an introduction to a number of models & posing questions to explore this artificial divide. Suffice it to say that we repeatedly experience that we cannot as coaches just help a leader in a work context. Rather they are a whole person with many elements & needs to explore. He also rightly (in my view) makes the case that leaders need a sense of meaning in their work & so need coaches or mentors able to work at the level of meaning, values & the spiritual.

What does this book offer leadership coaches?

Firstly, I am delighted to discover a book explicitly covering this topic. Leadership coaching these days is dominated by a focus on the GROW model or NLP practices. A growing body of literature also supports Positive Psychology, Narrative Coaching & to a lesser extent Gestalt leadership coaching. However, Psychosynthesis has been neglected.

At times Aubyn makes the point that with all these different ‘schools‘ of coaching & a flood of models or resources to help coaches, it is concerning that many lack any coherent psychology. Without it, there is a danger of a pick & mix approach, with mentors or coaches acting as magpies using whichever technique appeals at the time. Psychosynthesis offers us a consistent psychology & philosophy for coaching.

Anyway, before getting into a polemic on the topic, here is what you can expect in this relatively short book (just over 210 pages):

  • Introduction to Psychosynthesis (history & overview)
  • Links to GROW (John Whitmore) & Gestalt perspectives
  • Exploring existential crisis in Leadership
  • Why Coaching needs a psychology
  • Some of the key models of Psychosynthesis Coaching
  • Exploring boundaries, ambiguities & contexts
  • Overlap with wider Leadership Development
  • Three key perspectives for approaching this work:
    • Systematic (inc. constellations & more)
    • Developmental (inc. leadership paradigms)
    • Somatic (inc. approach to “body work”)
  • How to coach leaders towards synthesis in times of crisis
  • How to coach the Will
  • Some helpful techniques from Psychosynthesis
  • Insights & implications from NeuroPsychology
  • Plus those application chapters on Professional & Personal development (working in both realms)

Should coaches read this book?

Yes. Despite it not being an easy read, I believe it is an important one. More of a treasury to come back to many times & to act as a launchpad for further learning journeys. As just one example, Aubyn explores an evolutionary perspective on leadership that feels hugely relevant to HR departments today.

I was not surprised to find that many of these chapters had previously appeared as blog posts on Aubyn’s site. For all its many virtues, this book lacks a clear narrative flow for the leader. But it is a really useful collection of deeper thinking on this topic that will reward the patient reader. I recommend taking time to reflect after each chapter.

This book closes with encouragement for coaches to think of themselves as alchemists. That may strike many readers as an unusual choice of metaphor – when the scientific method is seen as having triumphed over the magical thinking of outdated alchemy. However, it is a rich picture for more experienced coaches to consider, brought to life by two quotes in the final chapter:

“The interplay of awareness, thought, action and effect. Transforming self and others… Anchoring in the inclusive present, seeing the light and dark in situations, working with order and chaos.”

David Rooke & William Torbet (Seven Transformations of Leadership)

Doesn’t that sound like a dynamic understanding of leadership for today?

“What is synthesis? It could be defined as a dynamic, creative balance of tensions.”

Roberto Assagioli

What am I going to do differently as a result?

Two things spring to mind. Firstly, I will seek to continue to develop my understanding of Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching & how it can improve my mentoring practice. I say that as I hear from more and more of my clients in these turbulent times a desire to reengage with meaning & purpose in their lives, not just commercial goals.

Secondly, I am inspired to reconnect with the power I experienced decades ago in that subpersonalities exercise. So, this month I will be sharing a series of blog posts exploring the sub personalities an analyst needs to deploy in their work. More on that coming soon…