International Coaching Week – Man’s Search for Meaning


My pledge for International Coaching Week is to re-visit one of my favourite books and review it for you. Here is my second choice of book.

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Book #2 – Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and it has made a lasting impression on me. A small and unassuming book on first appearances, it packs a massive punch. Not only has it influenced my coaching, but also my wider mind-set in life.

Only about 150 pages long, the first two thirds of the book are the harrowing story of Viktor’s experiences in Auschwitz, Dachau and other Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s. A professor of neurology and psychotherapy, the final third of his books explains his approach to supporting people to find purpose in their future using Logotherapy.

Logotherapy is for the realm of psychotherapy rather than coaching (unless unlike me, you have a background in psychology or psychotherapy). However for my coaching, there is one key line on page 75 that stands out and informs almost every moment of my coaching practice:

“…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”

Several years ago I went to an evening drinks reception where John McCarthy was the guest speaker. The event was only a couple of hours long and after mingling with our drinks and canapes, we stood to listen to John’s story. The room was utterly transfixed. There was silence and stillness and when he finished speaking no one moved or clapped for a few minutes. We were all very moved, humbled and inspired. It was another definitive moment for me and John’s message was the same as Viktor Frankl’s. John was a journalist working in Lebanon when in 1986 he was captured by terrorists and kept captive until 1991. Much of that time was in solitary confinement. John spoke about the desperation and brutality and how he kept himself committed to surviving by choosing his mind set each day and a focus for his thoughts.

In the early days of learning to coach, I expected clients to come along with clear goals and aspirations that they wanted to explore and develop. The reality proved to be different, with more of a focus on issues, being stuck and loss (e.g. loss of confidence, self-esteem or direction). Maybe your experience has been similar. Viktor Frank’s book has inspired me to help clients focus on what is under their control. First and foremost this is their mind-set. Who are they at their best? How do they think and behave when they are at their best? Strengths based activities can be strengthened by exploring values, beliefs, identity and purpose. There are many coaching techniques and tools to facilitate this and I am happy to share some ideas – just get in touch.

I have many clients who work in the public sector and in recent years they have experienced multiple reorganisations, redundancies and budget cuts. In addition, some are poorly managed and lack robust support. Very little might be under their control and I have discovered that by supporting them to identify their qualities and strengths and gain more control over their thinking, they find new solutions or strategies that enable them to stride forward. For some it can be transformational. A recent client who was very tearful at the start of her first coaching session, described her work situation as ‘a nightmare’. We explored her purpose and mind-set and her final words were ‘excited, brave and motivated’. Shifts like this are joyful and heart-warming and make coaching so worthwhile. It really does make a difference.

Definitely read Man’s Search for Meaning – it will have a profound impact.

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