Was Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, the first coach?

His famous quotation, I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think,” could have been written for any modern coaching manual. Similarly, Socrates’ approach to education, which involved questioning students and drawing out answers as method of developing understanding, seems to predict contemporary executive and life coaching practice.

However, for the purpose of this blog I want to focus on another Greek thinker, who I think also offers plenty for 21st century coaches to learn from.

Aristotle was one of Ancient Greece’s true polymaths.  From aesthetics to zoology, Aristotle’s brain was a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge. But he is perhaps best known for giving us the concept of rhetoric.

Rhetoric defines four strategies which are used to persuade an audience: ethos, pathos, logos and kairos. Originally conceived of as techniques for Greek orators to use when addressing crowds, over the centuries they have been adopted by politicians, advertisers and lawyers  seeking to hone their persuasive powers. I believe the art of rhetoric has as much to offer coaches seeking to develop their practice and grow their client base.


The four elements of rhetoric for coaches

Ethos: appeal to authority

Ethos is all about credibility. Aristotle knew that speakers with standing and kudos would be more likely to make an impact on their audiences. Coaches seeking to deploy ethos will need to demonstrate they qualified, not just in the literal sense but also in terms of their  life and work experience. A coach using ethos  gives their clients confidence and a sense of being in ‘safe hands’?

Pathos: appeal to emotions

Pathos is an ability to understand and tap into the emotional wavelength of others. Joe Biden, the recently declared US President Elect is particularly noted for his grasp of pathos.

For coaches, pathos manifests in emotional intelligence: that combination of empathy, self-awareness and emotional control that leads to one to be in-tune but also sufficiently detached to allow for supportive challenge.

Logos: appeal to logic

Logos is a use of facts and figures in support of a position.  A coach who is deploying logos is likely to be temporarily shifting into mentoring mode. They will be seeking permission to offer an insight or a suggestion that is based on their own understandings and knowledge.

Kairos: seizing a timely moment

Kairos is the often forgotten fourth element of rhetoric. In simple terms, kairos is the right words, at the right moment, in the right place. Neil Armstrong’s immortal words, uttered as he stepped foot on the moon are a great example of Kairos. For coaches, kairos comes from being present and intuition, as well as an ability to listen behind & between the words. Coaches using kairos effectively will be guided to know what to say and crucially what not to say through focused attention to their clients.

In the wrong hands rhetorical techniques can and have been misused and deployed to nefarious ends. Sophistry, the use of rhetoric with intention to deceive is all too commonplace in our world today. However, allied with integrity and authenticity, the Ancient Greek art of rhetoric has plenty to offer coaches as they seek to bring their best to their clients.

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