While many issues are brought to the executive coach, I have divided these into three broad areas:

  • business
  • inter-personal
  • personal


Fitzgerald (2002, p. 246) contends that a ‘working knowledge of business strategy is important for a number of reasons.’ She cites these reasons as:

    • First, basic knowledge of the themes, dilemmas, and trends in business is essential to understanding the context within which clients operate. You need to be sure that your Executive Coach has the hard skills in Business Strategy? Ask to see any formal recognised UK professional qualifications? Please don’t fall into the trap of a coach producing some cheap on-line course of attendance or participation Certificate. This means nothing to the client. So don’t fall for it! A recognised University qualification is good as gold from the top ten universities of UK. The Russelll Group universities is the elitist. Search on the Google search engine. Even a qualification from a Chartered UK Body is a good indicator of quality, rigour of learning and assessment. Chartered exams are harder than degree exams. I know because I have done both degree and chartered professional exams. To check the authenticity of the qualification, take the document number and call the University Awards Office for verification. Call the relevant chartered body again to ascertain whether it’s the real McCoy (the genuine article) Remember the first rule in business which I learned many years ago:


    • Second, business strategy considerations affect the requirements for effectiveness in other arenas of skills and style.
    • Third, where business strategy was once the concern of only a handful of the most senior executives, the fast-paced nature of today’s marketplace demands an understanding of strategy by executives at lower and lower organisational levels. If you don’t understand it, how the hell is your Coach going to explain it to you? Remember, one does not need any professional qualifications to call him/herself a Coach. It’s an unregulated, unlicensed industry. There are far too many people calling themselves a Coach and even a Consultant. You have been warned!
    • When executive coaching discusses business strategic issues, it is arguable that it is here that it is most closely aligned or overlaps with a consultancy role. Is the coach a consultant? A dictionary definition of consultancy is: the practice of giving expert advice within a particular field. When considering coaching, the expertise lies in the ability to coach, rather than technical or specialist knowledge. However you may benefit from a specialist technical knowledge if your Coach has this skill. See my website

However, there will be occasions when the coach has specialist or technical knowledge. Perhaps we can look at this in terms of a continuum, and consider a number of different positions along a continuum.

Between these positions, the coach might be used as a sounding board, offering thoughts and reflections. When do these start to become advice?

The external executive coach brings a unique position of closeness and distance, of intimacy and separation. Close enough to know the organisation very well, (if the coach has bothered
to do any research on the company/organisation) but not becoming a part of the organisation. If the coach becomes involved in the organisation’s day-to-day agenda and politics, then the
ability to remain objective and detached can be lost. Equally, the coach can be too separate, too detached and not sufficiently close to the organisation to check its pulse. Additionally,
there can also be benefits by being either very close or very detached. This is not an exact science! So between a coach and client, you need to agree the level of intervention you feel
comfortable with…


A recurrent theme in executive coaching is inter-personal relationships. This is a common feature of executive coaching conversations. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, one of which is that individuals, as described above, are often appointed to their first management position on technical skills, rather than their management or leadership capability. The journey thereafter can often be described as ‘filling out the leadership seat’. Having an in-depth technical knowledge is fine, but what about the knowledge of working effectively with others? This can be leading a team, leading multiple teams, leading a department, influencing with authority, influencing without authority, building relationships with peers and other departments, building relationships with the CEO, with external stakeholders and so on.

This can become complex, when some of the most ‘powerful’ executives in the organisation don’t actually have a lot of direct power: senior executives might be seeking to influence managers who might be leading managers who might be leading managers who might be leading front line staff. The ability to influence others effectively becomes prominent as a key competency. Conversely, they may hold high levels of direct power.

Building effective relationships with others is increasingly viewed as important in career development. The lack of it can certainly be a career de-railer. The senior executive often
needs to achieve high levels of performance through others, using a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to engage staff.


Working with the person is a significant area for executive coaching. Raising levels of personal achievement is a key success factor. But what does that mean?

Kets de Vries (2007, p. 3-5) introduces a clinical paradigm that acts as a framework for leadership development. This paradigm is based upon four premises:

      • all human behaviour, even in its most odd or deviant forms, has a rational explanation
      • our unconscious plays a tremendous role in determining our actions, thoughts, fantasies, hopes, and fears
      • our emotions contribute to our identity and behaviour
      • human development is an interpersonal and intrapersonal process

Kets de Vries terms the paradigm metaphorically as exploring a person’s inner theatre. Developing personal confidence might be one area. Superficially, it might be assumed that
senior executives aren’t short of confidence, but, from experience, this is not the case. The executive might be making decisions affecting other people’s lives, or have the accountability
for huge portions of business. The higher up someone is in an organisation, the lonelier it can be!

Another facet of senior executives is that their successful careers are underpinned with a lot of personal drive. They can be very ‘driven’ individuals. What is the impact for them in a
leadership position? What impact does their personal drive have on others? But what lies within them and their drive? This is where the awareness development goes on – in the inner
world of the client.

The inner world manifests itself in behaviours. Which of the executive’s behaviours help performance, which ones hinder performance? The executive coach might be working with an activist who doesn’t like to reflect, or a reflector, who is uncomfortable acting too quickly. Or how about the executive who procrastinates over decisions? Or the one who struggles to
understand his own feelings to such a degree that he struggles to tune into anyone else’s?

Another common theme for managers rising through organisations is learning to let go – to do less and lead more.

If the executive does not receive coaching or support from his / her line manager, the tendency can be to look down rather than up – in this instance, the executive effectively does
the job of the next person down.


Fitzgerald. C., Garvey Berger. J. (2002) Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives. California: Davies-Black.

Kets de Vries, F.R., Korotov, K., Florent-Treacy, E. (2001) Coach and Couch: The Psychology of Making Better Leaders. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.