Perhaps one of the most interesting phenomenon in the history of business is the growth of the coaching industry over the past few decades. Various claims and reports have been made with respect to where the idea of coaching as an alternative to management was first introduced. This two-part video records a landmark event, produced and hosted by Jim Selman, in which he engages in a dialogue with George Allen, Red Auerbach, Timothy Gallwey, John Wooden and Werner Erhard about the nature and possibility of coaching.

Part 1

Part 2

Management as a discipline has a relatively short history. Adam Smith and James Watt laid the foundations of management thinking with their notions of division of labor, production standards and workflow in the 1700s. In the early 1900s, Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, outlined principles and methods of reliable production while Max Weber advocated bureaucracy as an ideal way to arrange and administer large organizations. By the end of the twentieth century, Peter Drucker had identified three broad managerial functions: manage the business, manage the managers, and manage the workers and the work. Most management approaches focus, in one way or another, on how to effectively control people to get predictable results.

Control is the foundation of the field of management.

Jim Selman, in asking how do results get produced without control, stumbled on the idea that coaches—be they in sports or the fine and performing arts—do not control the actions of their people. From that one insight, however, he began to envision coaching as a more effective means for transforming organizational culture, which is when he and his colleagues considered producing the event you are about to observe.

The event, held in Boston in October 1987, was simultaneously broadcast live-to-air to 5,000 viewers around the world. The show was produced and hosted by Jim Selman, who was then president and CEO of Transformational Technologies Inc., a start-up consulting business made up of a network of approximately 100 small consulting firms. (Transformational Technologies’ primary focus was on creating culture change in large organizations, and their consultants used many ideas developed by Werner Erhard, Fernando Flores, and Jim Selman.)

For the broadcast, Jim brought together Werner Erhard, the founder of est and The Hunger Project, with four of American sports’ most prominent “coach’s coaches” of the day (that is, coaches who developed great players who, themselves, went on to become great coaches).

  • George Allen – American professional and collegiate football coach; head coach for the LA Rams, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Chicago Blitz and Arizona Wranglers
  • Red Auerbach – American professional basketball coach; chalked up 938 wins and nine NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, Washington Capitals, and Tri-Cities Blackhawks
  • Timothy Gallwey – former captain of Harvard University’s tennis team and author of several books outlining a methodology for coaching and personal/professional excellence (The Inner Game of Tennis, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Music, Inner Skiing, The Inner Game of Work)
  • John Wooden – American collegiate basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, whom he coached to win ten NCAA national championships in 12 years; first basketball player to be named all-American player three times

At the time, Werner Erhard, himself a serious competitor in auto racing, had been working on developing a theory of maximizing performance and, as a student of coaching himself, felt strongly that this event could potentially be an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough. Before this event, the concept of coaching was almost exclusively viewed as something for players of sports or performers, for people seeking inspiration or motivation, or for “problem” individuals in organizations who needed to be “fixed”.

The idea of coaching as an alternative to conventional management opened up a different way of understanding how human beings accomplish results in their work.

It is notable that, two years afterwards, Jim published “Coaching and the Art of Management”, the first article on the topic in business, with Roger Evered. The term “coaching”, by then, had started to shift from being perceived as a special service you brought in to fix problems to being seen as a mainstay in leadership and organizational development. Today, coaching is ubiquitous and has even expanded well beyond its focus on business, sports and the arts to include many more domains of human endeavor.

If you are interested in a rigorous history of the coaching field, check out Dr. Vicki Brock’s comprehensive Sourcebook of Coaching History (2012).