What could an early 20th-century psychiatrist possibly have to do with modern-day corporate leadership skills? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, pioneered an approach centred on the unique individual and his or her connection to the surrounding world. Although originally a founding member of the modern psychotherapy movement, Adler eventually split from Freud’s immediate circle to pursue his own more humanistic ideas.
More than a century later, Adler’s highly relevant philosophy is even more applicable—especially in the corporate world. The professional-coach program that teaches business leaders to apply this philosophy is offered by Toronto-based Adler International Learning Inc. Founded by Dr. Linda Page in 1998, the program is the first in Canada to be accredited by the International Coach Federation, the largest organization in the world to certify coaches in this growing discipline.
But Adler International does more than coaching. More recently, its graduate program, founded in 2011, offers students an applied Master of Psychology degree that prepares them in the areas of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
“Adlerian psychology and coaching assumes that people who participate actively in their own learning and decision-making are much more successful in their lives and careers,” says Dr. Page, who originally specialized in sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, and received her PhD from Princeton University. After studying counselling psychology, practicing as a psychotherapist, and teaching in graduate schools, she founded the Adler organization to teach applied psychology and coaching. With coauthor David Rock, she wrote Coaching with the Brain in Mind, published by Wiley in 2009, to establish the academic foundations of coaching.
“Adlerian principles help people set goals so that they can create meaning in their lives—meaning that is not imposed from outside but rather developed from inside,” she says. Adlerian principles, she adds, also espouse more contemporary 21st-century management ideas.
Each year, some 200 Adler coaching students around the world—including many CEOs and HR professionals—attend intensive workshops that focus on such skills as how to be fully present, listen, ask questions, relate with oneself and others, bring out the best in people, develop rapport, and hold oneself accountable. In addition, coaches learn about ethical guidelines for helping relationships.
“Adlerian is not judgmental,” Page says. “It assumes people are creative and competent, allowing them to have an experience and share it, not tell them what the experience should be.”
By the Numbers
First program in Canada accredited by the International Coach Federation
Percentage of Canadian banks coached by Adler International or its graduates
Number of countries in which Adlerian coaching and leadership is taught
Number of faculty members
In her own organization, which employs 9 staff and 35 faculty members, Page applies these principles and lives by them. “How can we be teaching this and not implementing it ourselves?” she asks. “So we do. For example, if executives ask employees to take a cut in pay, should they not do the same themselves? Or, if we are investing in a new phone system, shouldn’t the person using it the most, even if a new junior employee, have input in the system we buy? We say yes. Any staff member is welcome at our strategy meetings. The feeling is one of egalitarianism—the sense that we are all in this together.”
In Page’s school, new programs are designed collaboratively, with practitioners engaging in an “open source” process. “Businesses and schools are no longer in silos, towers, and fortresses,” she says. “Because we are all connected to each other and the world around us, we should function in an open, democratic way, developing an environment where any of us feels free to contribute our best ideas.”
The Adler team “lives” the principles she values and teaches in her coaching and leadership programs. She believes motivational styles that treat everyone like a replaceable part of an inanimate mechanism are not conducive to productivity.
“We understand that allowing people their own individual style and approach works better than managing their every move,” she says. “Brain research has shown that during the time when you are doing nothing is actually when you are incubating the best ideas.”