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Articles - Executive Coaching from the Executive's Perspective

Abstract    This article provides a glimpse of what executive coaching is for those at the top-most position in an organization as experienced and defined by them. Seven top management executives shared their views and perspectives regarding executive coaching. Each CEO and/or President was interviewed separately by the author in a manner that was informal, conversational, and guided by eleven pre-constructed questions. A number of shared themes emerged for defining coaching at the top-most levels of an organization, and several distinct thoughts were raised for ensuring meaningful and tangible outcomes from the coaching experience.

Executive Coaching from the Executive’s Perspective

Despite the growing popularity of executive coaching and the increasing number of references to it in both the public media and professional literature, there is relatively little empirical research supporting the validity and reliability of coaching interventions with executive clients.

Potentially hampering the development of a scientifically-based field of executive coaching is the likelihood that different things happen under the term executive coaching at different levels of the organization. Furthermore, the reasons for a coaching engagement may differ, and any organizationally-sponsored “program” of coaching may include executives who are unwilling, unready, or unable to derive benefit from a coaching-type intervention. These factors, and more, potentially give rise to variables akin to “apples and oranges”, and may lead researchers to only the most generic conclusions about the efficacy of coaching. 

Additionally, there remains a great deal of confusion and mystery as to what actually happens behind closed doors when executives engage with a coach. While case study material and narrative approaches have a place in the evolution of our knowledge about executive coaching, most are written from the coach’s vantage point of what happened, what worked, and what outcomes were achieved.  On the other hand, case material anchored in a context other than the coach’s own perspective may give rise to additional insights and knowledge about what actually occurs in a coaching engagement.  Adding the perspective of the person being coached is useful because what interventionists think may be of importance to a process of change may not be what was viewed as being most helpful by the client.

This article attempts to provide a glimpse of what executive coaching is for those at the top-most position in an organization as experienced and defined by them.

The Process

Seven top management executives from four major business sectors (industrial manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and academia) were invited to share their views and perspectives regarding executive coaching. Each CEO and/or President was interviewed separately over the telephone by the author in a manner that was informal, conversational, and guided by eleven pre-constructed questions. Each executive had received the questions well in advance of the telephone interview, and were encouraged to use the questions to help stimulate and guide their reflections and thoughts but to not be limited by them. Each interview was tape recorded with permission from the executive and later transcribed.   

Three of the seven executives interviewed had at one time been engaged in a coaching relationship with the author, each spanning more than two years. Two of these three executives and all of the remaining four had had experiences with an executive coach other than the author. All seven executives, one of which was a woman, had engaged with an executive coach during their tenure as CEO and/or President of their respective organizations. Three of these seven continue to lead and manage their organizations from this top management position while four have respectfully “retired” in the past 18 months into post-career roles as consultant, not-for-profit board chair, adjunct faculty professor, and ‘stay-at-home’ grand-dad.

Executive Coaching from the Executive’s Perspective

The commentary and reflections of the seven CEOs and Presidents collected from the guided interviews were reviewed and organized around the eleven interview questions.  As much as possible, the actual ‘voice’ of the executive is reflected in the quotations selected and presented under each question below, with only minor editing to improve readability. An effort was made to present relevant and representative quotations for each question rather than provide multiple examples of a common theme. A thematic summary is presented later in Table 1.

Click on the questions below to see the responses to that question.

“EC should be a voice that brings a perspective different from mine and that of others on my team. EC should ask me questions I hadn’t thought of as well as help me think about the complexity of what I'm wrestling with as the company’s top leader.”


“What EC focuses on or does should change as the executive matures and develops in his or her role over time.  It may start out as, “I’ve got a problem and I’m not clear on what to do or how to do it?” but should eventually move to a deeper sense of what the executive’s work really is.”


“An executive should at some point begin to realize that how he engages with people, how he solves problems, what he writes, and what he says actually creates an ethos for the organization. Coaching can and should help him think clearly about what he is doing and how he is doing it so that he creates the proper ethos for the organization.”


“EC can help us be more courageous, do and say the things we know we need to, and to find the right way to do it, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.”


“EC is not about getting an answer; it’s about getting help to understand what we are dealing with in all of its richness and fullness so that we can make good choices on what to do and how to do it.”


“EC is not a consultative relationship…it’s a mutually collaborative relationship. My thought is that in a consulting relationship, it’s like “here’s my problem, give me some answers”. In a collaborative relationship, we are mutually exploring ways to look at a problem, considering options together, and developing potential actions to take.”


“EC can prompt a pattern of reflection so that the voice of the executive coach becomes like a second inner voice that the executive can listen to or use if he or she wants to, but it takes a while for the executive to incorporate the sensibility and voice of the executive coach.” 


“I really think EC is about seeing the complexities more clearly, considering other perspectives more fully, and bringing together and solidifying all our thinking on a subject so that we can get a handle on it. We can have a lot of ideas and thoughts about something but need help fashioning a sound bite so that the problem becomes comprehensible without critical omissions.”


“The higher up in an organization one gets, the more executive-level work really, truly becomes two things…exercising good judgment for the sake of the company and interacting with people in a way that is successful…that’s what EC should be focused on…helping me with those two things, my real job, so to speak.” 

“As President, it is easy to get people to agree with me. To have an ongoing dialogue with someone who can challenge me to ask myself, ‘Do I have the right motives, do I have the right perspective, am I taking into account things I don’t know, am I looking at the issue in the right way, etc.?’ …this what I want from an executive coach.”


“For me, it’s really the recognition that in my role (as CEO), everybody I’m working with has an agenda, and that I too have an agenda. And those agendas can get in the way of clear headed thinking…clear headed thinking that serves the company agenda. The benefit of EC is being in a relationship with somebody where their agenda is to help me gain clarity in my thinking.”


“I am not looking for an ‘expert’ with answers. I’m looking for somebody who has the skill set and capacities to help me focus in a clear and appropriately detached way so that clarity emerges in my own thinking about the work I’m doing, the direction I’m going, and the relationships I have.”


“There has to be the interest and willingness to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and to want to strengthen one’s capacity for the job of leading the company. You can’t believe that you are already the best you’ll ever be.”


“The impetus for EC will most likely come from the governing body or board. Remember…executives have inflated egos and I believe that they will not generally or readily recognize the opportunity for self-improvement. There may be some that will but I don’t think the numbers are large in my view.”


“I just don’t see how anyone can do executive-level work without getting outside help, but I know that EC is not on most people’s radar screens.”

“I think the EC relationship is a helping relationship, but the executive really has to want to be helped to go beyond what he or she thinks already. The executive can’t believe that he or she is the only one with a valid or correct view of a situation.”


“The executive coach has to be smart and have enough experience and background to understand the pressures, challenges, and responsibilities we face. And they have to be good listeners…they have to listen really, really well, not only to what I say but to what I mean.”


“There’s the intelligence and demeanor of the coach…but there especially needs to be a mutual interest in the relationship and in the value of the outcome, including a shared belief that the organization and the executive are worthwhile to work with. The coach can’t come in and think,”Oh, this organization stinks, it’s not a sexy place, this guy’s a loser…I’m not too interested.” That doesn’t work.”


“The executive has to be willing to entertain the possibility that their situation is something other than the way that they have defined it. The perception of the executive could be misplaced or distorted. That’s what the coach is there to do…help re-focus that perception so that issues can be looked at and understood in a different light.”


“I’m looking for someone who understands our challenges and barriers and reality, and can work within that reality to help us find answers to our issues. I don’t want someone who idealizes how things should be, and then becomes critical or judgmental, but rather someone who works within our constraints and within our reality, however imperfect our world may be.”


“It would be the ability of the person to present him or herself authentically because it’s the person…their heart, their soul, their spirit…that I’m interested in. While there are a lot of smart people in the world, I’m looking for somebody who can interact with me in that way on that level, and who has the capacity to do that with others in my organization as well.”


“If the lieutenants don’t trust the CEO, then efforts to engage them in an EC relationship are likely to be stonewalled or at least non-productive.”


“There should be a goal-orientation or focus to the discussion to help keep clear what we are trying to do or striving for. For us executives to painfully go through a good helping process, we need to be anchored in, “Here’s where we are, here’s what we are trying to do, and here’s where we’re going”.”


“I think that a previous experience with getting help does influence the executive’s willingness to engage in an EC relationship. Whether it was with a pastor, social worker, or counselor…it makes a difference. If you think you are totally self-sufficient, it’s hard to engage in or get benefit from executive coaching. There is also the possibility that some people may have had a bad experience with getting help, and therefore are unwilling to accept coaching help.”


“I wonder if an important part about effective coaching isn’t also appropriately managing expectations in all directions about what ultimately can be accomplished.” 

“When coaching is done successfully, my view is more robust and encompassing, what becomes important shifts, and my capacity for making sense of complex, ambiguous affairs expands.  Then my choices and decisions are better, and the right actions follow.”


“Coaching helped me to see beyond myself and what I was doing…and that is the most important thing to me about being a good leader…to understand that it is not all about ‘you’.”


“Coaching helps me to go beyond what I think I know, and that’s really important because that enables me to be more considered in my work as the leader of this organization.” 


“The process of talking out loud offered the opportunity for reflection; you get to hear your own voice in a fuller dimension. In addition to hearing the coach’s voice, I could hear myself better.”


“Being reminded that I was the one responsible…and being reminded of what I was responsible for. It was kind of like being held accountable, but without the negative judgment of a boss.”


“EC helped my work as President become more meaningful to me and to the organization in the sense that it (my work) made a greater difference.”


“EC helped me check my perceptions and alter my judgments about how I viewed issues. Then I had the choice to soften or modify my position, or to change my approach.”


“I think that in many organizations, people don’t really talk to each another…they just move through their day. When they do talk, it is simply a transaction. EC gives people a chance to really talk about what they think and feel relative to the work they do and the meaning of it, it certainly did that for me.” 


“Sometimes things you said would not immediately affect the way I was thinking about something. Sometimes I even disagreed with what you said. However, over time, rolling around in my mind was your perspective, your point of view, your comments, and eventually I got around to looking at the issue differently. Many times it even happened that I then changed my view or changed what I was initially going to do. I found that most helpful, as I think back to our work together.”


“EC helped me sort out my own reactions to things so that I’d make a more measured and informed response rather than an impulsive or emotional one. I then could say what needed saying in a way that wasn’t a personal attack on someone because I was using my role responsibilities in the organization as my anchor, not my personal feelings about the issue or the person.”

“That the client isn’t me. The client is the company and its agenda. The executive coach is here to help me serve that agenda in the role I have to the best of my God-given ability.”


“They should remember that the executive coach is not an answer person, or a friend, and doesn’t solve problems. The executive coach is not Dear Abby…the executive needs to figure out how to solve the problem him or herself.”


“Don’t just assume that the caliber of available coaches is always good. There are a lot of people calling themselves executive coaches who are really unfit professionally, morally, and ethically to do this work. The coach is in a very powerful role; he or she needs to have their own internal guidance system so that they don’t cross the line…and it is a very thin line between good and bad coaching.” 

“Confidentiality is the foundation upon which an EC relationship is based. Without confidentiality, the whole process does not work…it falls apart.” 

“Confidentiality has to be at the absolute highest level and you (the coach) really only get one shot at that. If at any point I tell you something and somehow it leaks out and I find out, we’re done…absolutely done…you don’t get a second chance. And you will never be back to where you were.”


“Confidentiality means that the executive coach should not be carrying messages for anyone up or down the organization…not from the CEO and not to the CEO. The coach is not a communication link.”


“There are, I think, special circumstances when the coach should be released from confidentiality. I’m sure that your own professional psychology association has a Code of Ethics that contain guidelines about honoring, preserving, and breaching confidentiality. That’s part of why I trust someone with your background in this type of work.”

“I think there needs to be some way of structuring feedback to the organization so that it doesn’t become personal or awkward for people, and still protects the confidentiality of any uncensored discussion the coach had with people.” 


“I do think that coaches have some responsibility to the organization to report back. If we’re having an organizational issue that we are trying to solve, and some senior managers are not working in concert with our effort…that is, they are not representing the president’s message or position the right way, we ought to know that…that’s what we are paying for.”


“I think there needs to be a balance between what managers think they can do in an autonomous way and what they need to do to reach our company goals or to go in the direction that the President wants. If that is out of balance, then the president needs to know that. Hence, there needs to be some channel of appropriate and respectful feedback about what is perceived or thought about elsewhere in the organization.”


“Who invited the coach to the table? If it was the Board, then the coach needs to say up front to the Board that the engagement is between the executive and the coach, and then try to define the scope and limits of feedback to them up front about the executive…and the executive needs to know what the parameters and expectations are before engaging with the coach.”


“The coach has to be very skilled and alert so to avoid being trapped in the middle and/or manipulated into being a messenger between parties, especially when it’s the Board and the CEO. That’s why I think this whole notion of executive coaching, for me, requires very talented and uniquely prepared individuals.  Everybody is putting it on their resume now, and I’m going, “Wait a minute, this is a lot harder and more complicated than you think.”.”

“If you have some members of an executive team who don’t want to participate, or are unwilling to participate, then I’m not sure it’s worth forcing them…they’ll just go through the motions and nothing worthwhile will happen.” 


“I think that it tells you something about your team members to the extent they are not willing to engage with an executive coach.”


“One of the challenges that hadn’t occurred to me before is how difficult it must be to coach someone in isolation, divorced from first-hand knowledge of the context the person is in, and seeing the rest of the organization and the peers and colleagues and subordinates and superiors, and so on solely through the eyes of that individual.”


I would think that the hardest thing to pull off in a coaching context is where a coach ‘parachutes’ into an issue and is dealing with one individual executive and has to learn about and sort through the biases, the blinkers, the blind-spots, and the prelims the individual is seeing with. I have to wonder given the impediments and inhibitions that that puts on effectiveness, whether that is even ever worth doing…which is a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before.”

“I don’t think you can take a standard formula and apply it to each person. Each person is going to need their own strategy and structure around which to be engaged in EC. Different things will work for different people; one size will not fit all.” 


“The degree of respect, the degree of trust, the degree of fellowship among members of the group will influence people’s readiness and willingness to participate in EC.”


“The President should not be inquiring about them; like asking the coach, “What did they say”, or asking them how come they are not meeting with you (the coach) more regularly.”


“There needs to be a non-defensive attitude by the CEO. Not everyone is going to be pleased by everything the CEO does. This may come out in their coaching sessions. The CEO can’t give undue concern to this.”


“The CEO has to trust the process, trust the executive coach, and make it easy and OK for people to participate (in EC), or perhaps to not participate.”


“Define the roles and the process up front. I think they are different for a coaching engagement with an individual versus a team. Just think of the complexity involved regarding confidentiality when engaging a team…it is immense. So, the rules have to be different and clearly explained up front.”


“I think as the senior person who understands and values the EC process, I need to make sure that people don’t somehow feel unfairly punished if they have chosen not to engage in EC. Everyone grows and moves at their own pace…I have to help them find something to help move them developmentally forward that fits where they are at the moment.”

“I think that executive coaches could be trained in any number of things, but they need to have a solid theoretical framework for and an interest in the psychology of organizations and the psychology of people.”  


“Anyone who has a theoretically sound framework for understanding human beings in relationship could potentially offer something useful because business organizations are social systems with a business agenda.


“I think that it is very difficult for most human resources people to have a full picture; they mostly get to view only a very thin slice of an organization. That would hamper them as executive coaches. They could coach around specific issues, though, like handling a problem employee.”


“I think the training should be in psychology, sociology, anthropology, OD…those disciplines. I can even imagine that if you were well trained in theology and clergy, you could probably figure out how to do EC within reason, provided you were familiar with business-type organizations.”


“Behavioral science is where the foundations need to be because this is about human beings and social systems, not about business per se. But they need to understand what a business organization is about, and the demands on the business organization leadership.”


“If they understand human development and how people evolve and adapt as conditions change they’d be in a good place for this type of work. I don’t think an MBA helps you much with this stuff.”


“There are enough people in every industry that have been trained up the whah-zoo on the specific aspects of a business or industry…full of answers for both good questions and bad questions. But EC is not about delivering answers…it’s about figuring out what are the right questions, and how do they get asked, and of whom. And it’s about how do we best engage in dialogue around those questions. That’s the mindset needed for this kind of work for EC to be most helpful.”


“Being trained in people dynamics is good, but if you only see the interactional, people-side of an issue, you may miss the possibility that the more salient and more important issue is the poorly conceived or dysfunctional organizational design…the structure people are working in may need fixing.”


“The professional discipline matters, but so does having an understanding of real world issues. I can tell you about people who have PhDs that still don’t understand how to change a flat tire. The executive coach should have his or her own track record of experience in a real-world environment.”


“One’s formal training is a lesser issue, in my view. The perspective the coach has, his or her philosophical make-up, and the moral and social skills of that person are the more important issues. Relative to being trained in business…one needs to have exposure or understanding, not of a particular industry, but of what the business environment is like.”

“I thought this was a trick question…so I’ll answer it very clearly…always outside. If you are inside an organization, you have a contaminated perception because you are part of that context. The value of the outside coach is that he or she has clearer vision and is better able to say the unsay-able.”


“I think it should be someone from the outside because of the neutrality the person would bring. It would have to be a pretty large organization for it to be someone from the inside.”


“Although it’s harder to be objective the longer you (the outside coach) are involved with a particular institution, there is something potentially valuable about the outside coach having experienced a lot of other companies, organizations, and institutions…like your perspective on the issues and traits in common. While they can all still be fairly distinct, they are probably not unique.”


“You (the outside coach) don’t have a stake in the outcome. If the organization is not doing well, you are not responsible for making it better. You are there to help the people there make it better. And that’s a very important distinction.”


“There is also the issue of confidentiality. I do think it is easier to keep some level of confidentiality if it’s an outside person.”


“I do think that sometimes chief executives need to rely on wisdom from outside because there isn’t always a lot of objective wisdom inside the organization at every moment. When you are in it, you very often can’t see it…objectively, or otherwise…also, there are blind-spots…lots of them for lots of reasons, and inside people no matter how well intended can’t see them either.”


“If the person is inside, eventually that person becomes imbrued with the same way of thinking about things as the people they’re trying to be helpful to. So I am biased toward someone from the outside, who theoretically brings a fresh, un-infected perspective with a capacity to be less attached to a particular outcome…a managed objectivity, so to speak.”

Thematic Summary
There were a number of shared themes in the commentary and thoughts of these seven executives relative to each question. These themes are presented in Table 1 in descending order of frequency and/or emphasis for each question.

Table 1: Summary of Themes by Question


Q1: Definition / purpose of EC

       To help the CEO and/or President…

  • Gain a deeper, broader, clearer understanding of the issues they contend with in their role;
  • Comprehend and cope with increasing degrees of complexity and ambiguity;
  • Shape and set the tone or ethos of the organization;
  • Say and do necessary but difficult things in the right way;

 
Q2: Why engage in EC

  • To have a sounding board that challenges and sharpens one’s thinking;
  • For self-improvement; to strengthen one’s ability to meet the responsibilities of the position;
  • To ameliorate or address potential shortcomings in how one carries out the role of CEO / President;

Q3: ‘Ingredients’ of an effective EC engagement
       Coach-centered:

  • Interested in the success of the executive and his/her organization; invested in the work;
  • Comfortable with and grounded in the executive’s contextual framework; highly credible;
  • Authentic, genuine, and ethical in personal character; respectful in demeanor; possessing a smart, insightful perspective;
  • Capable of listening to what is said and to what is meant;

        Executive-centered:

  • Willingness to consider issues from a different point of view;
  • Openness to influence; willingness to be helped;
  • Capable of trusting another person and engaging in honest, open dialogue;
  • Psychologically mature and healthy;

       Context-centered:

  • A mutual interest in the relationship and in the value of the work;
  • A prevailing climate of trust in the organization;
  • A goal-orientation; clarity around why, what, and how;

Q4: Benefit from EC

  • Judgments and actions more measured and considered;
  • Better choices and decisions giving rise to more of the right actions;
  • Better self-restraint in handling power, status, and adulation;
  • More clarity and focus on role responsibility as the anchor for conduct and action;
  • More personal satisfaction from the role of leader;

Q5: ‘Pitfalls’ to keep in mind

  • Seeing the executive coach as an ‘answer person’;
  • Thinking that it’s all about ‘you’, rather than you in relation to the organization’s agenda;
  • Engaging with a coach who is ill-prepared for this work or of questionable character;

Q6: Confidentiality

  • It is paramount to the relationship and to the success of the endeavor;
  • Having and adhering to clear, professionally crafted guidelines is necessary and important;

Q7: Feedback to the organization

  • Appropriate and respectful feedback is necessary and legitimate;
  • Parameters should be clarified and agreed to up-front;
  • The executive coach should not ferry information or messages to or from people;
  • It requires the highest level of skill and sophistication to effectively balance the demands for both confidentiality and feedback;  

Q8: All team members in EC

  • Executives need to engage willingly and for their own reasons;
  • Demanding or forcing them to engage in EC diminishes the potential value of it;
  • Coaching an individual divorced from his or her context delimits EC’s effectiveness;

Q9: Considerations re: team members in EC

  • CEO / President sets the tone or conditions that influences willingness to participate;
  • No standardized approach; one size will not fit all;
  • Make the parameters and process clear up-front;

Q10: Training / preparation of the coach

  • Needs a theoretically sound foundation in human psychology and social systems;
  • Needs a familiarity and comfort with the business environment /context;
  • Needs the ability to see and work with organization design / structure problems;
  • Needs to have a real-world understanding;

Q11: Outside or inside coach

  • An outside coach has numerous potential advantages and represents a greater potential value to the executive and/or organization;
  • A coach from the inside may be OK only if the organization is very large;

Conclusions

It seems reasonable to conclude from these comments and the shared themes presented in Table 1 that these seven top-level executives consider executive coaching to be a unique process wherein something is not done to them, nor is something done for them. To these seven CEOs and/or Presidents executive coaching is a helping-process wherein something is done with them in a way that also enables them to better meet their role obligations and responsibilities.

There was also a great deal of agreement among these seven executives that this process occurs within a unique and personalized relationship that is forged on the sacrosanct foundations of confidentiality, mutual interest, and mutual respect. To them, executive coaching is an intimate exchange of views and perspectives with a uniquely prepared and professionally-anchored person that aims to strengthen an executive’s ability to think and act in a clear-headed, well-considered way in the service of their organization’s mission and purpose.

Implications and Thoughts for Discussion

This glimpse into executive coaching as experienced and defined by these seven top-level executives aligns well with a view of the executive coach as confidant, sounding board, and trusted advisor. For them, the helping process as represented by executive coaching is not focused on fixing, ameliorating or healing personality deficiencies and/or behavior deficits, but rather on helping successful, healthy individuals more fully meet and carry out their role responsibilities as defined by their position and status in an organization. 

There is no doubt that a fair number of people holding highly responsible positions in an organization could use help to resolve personal issues that delimit their potential effectiveness, or need help to modify ingrained behavioral habits and styles that result in sub-optimal performance in their role. “Coaching“ has emerged over the past 25 years as a more acceptable intervention than “counseling” in the business world for these situations even though they may be, in many cases, indistinguishable in practice.  

Given the potential for confusion regarding the intent behind an executive coaching engagement, and the implications that this confusion may have for studying the efficacy of executive coaching, perhaps some thought and discussion should be given to the terminology or labels used.  For example, “leadership consultation” or “leadership coaching” may better denote what these seven CEO’s and Presidents described as executive coaching. Likewise, “developmental coaching” or “performance coaching” might better denote an effort to help an executive address elements in his or her personality or behavior that hamper his or her effectiveness, and/or an effort to strengthen one’s readiness for the challenges and demands of a different or higher organizational position. With more front-end clarity regarding the intent of the coaching engagement, including the goals or outcomes desired and the expectations of those involved, perhaps more descriptive precision could be attained in the labels or terminology used. This, in turn, might contribute to developing a better classification system or model of coaching as a multi-dimensional intervention process or activity. 

These seven executives also made clear their view that the coaching process occurs within the context of a “helping relationship”, and acknowledged two critical variables for a successful helping experience: 1) the openness and willingness of the executive to be influenced by the coach; and, 2) the coach’s wise and ethical use of this influence-power. Two articles appeared in the Harvard Business Review within the past three years warning business executives not only of the potential misuse and abuse of this influence-power by the coach but also of the potential dangers of engaging a well-intended but ill-prepared “coach” naïve to the notions and challenges inherent in managing a successful coaching relationship.

The professionally prepared and ethically anchored consulting psychologist potentially represents a lower level of risk in this regard than other executive coaching practitioners, and may have the added advantage of being formally trained in recognizing and managing boundary, transference, and dependency issues, etc. that are inherent in an effective helping relationship. On-going and advanced training in recognizing, avoiding and resolving the inherent ethical dilemmas associated with the acquisition and use of influence-power and in the recognition and management of underlying dynamic and relational issues help to further distinguish consulting psychology as potentially a preferred background for this kind of work.

The seven CEOs and presidents also suggested that the credibility of the coach, and hence their willingness to listen and be influenced by him or her, was in large measure dependent on how grounded and familiar the coach was with their ‘reality’ and the challenges they faced as business professionals leading a business organization. That is to say, that people who coach executives must have an in-depth feel for the lives that these most competent, ambitious, and talented people lead and how to successfully intervene with them.

Coaching executives clearly requires a demonstrable understanding of business, organizations, management, leadership, economics, and the impact of world events on these and other arenas comprising the executives’ ‘field of play’.

In Closing…

This article attempted to provide a glimpse into what executive coaching is for those at the top-most position in an organization as experienced and defined by them. While their perspectives and comments can not and should not be over-generalized, there is potentially considerable food for thought in their comments concerning the preparation for and practice of executive coaching. Perhaps others will be inspired to extend and/or sharpen the thoughts and issues reflected here, or at the very least perhaps they will take up the challenge of listening to our clients and allowing them to influence and shape our knowledge and practice as executive coaches.  END

Please click here for a downloadable pdf-version of this article. 

The original version of this article was published in its entirety in: Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol. 57, No 4, Fall 2005, and was voted via Peer Review the First Runner Up for Most Outstanding CPJ Article in 2005.  

Author: 
Dr. John H. Stevens, Jr.

Comments or Questions about this article?
Contact Dr. John H. Stevens, Jr.  at  (978) 771-9499

All Rights Reserved
January 2005

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