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Gestalt Institute of Cleveland

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Becoming an Effective Organizational Intervener

Master's Degree in Diversity Management.

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Discovering Our Way: Natural Leadership Retreat

Leadership Development

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APRIL 2008

Welcome. In the prior issue, we discussed the various forms of assessments that are being requested before, during, and after coaching relationships. In this issue, we continue the discussion and finish the article with a discussion on executive coaching.

In the last issue, we discussed Maddi's theory of finding the courage to face a crisis. In this issue we expand the concepts and look at what to do with a coaching client stuck in a crisis.

We are going to do our annual leadership retreat at the Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek Montana. Details are below. It is a wonderful way to enjoy the panaormic view of Montana while involved in a leadership retreat.

Enjoy the issue and forward it to friends if you like it.

Bountiful Blessings
Herb Stevenson

Bottom Line of Coaching....

What is Executive Coaching?

In recent years, coaching has been distinguished from executive coaching because more top level executives have discovered that a skilled executive coach can provide support that may not be available within the organization.

Executive Coaching:

As juxtaposed to the prior paragraphs, the best definition of executive coaching is that it is inclusive and evolving. (Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, 208-9) All of the prior issues of coaching may apply to a specific executive coaching situation and due to the nature of the position, it involves more.

In the past, it has been more focused as a part of an ongoing consulting contract, wherein the executive develops a relationship with the consultant and the consultant develops a holding environment with the executive where learning can occur. More recently, it has been argued that ‘All coaches are consultants, but not all consultants are coaches'. In this distinction, the consultant is predisposed to executive productivity whereas the coach is predisposed towards executive development, which might include productivity. (Dutton, 1997, 39)

Regardless, of whether or not it is something beyond consulting, "the work often is about helping an executive identify his or her strengths and weaknesses and address both." (Foxhall, 2002, 52) The confusion between what is consulting and what is coaching seems to be that it often is piggybacked with other areas that typically have been associated with consulting such as being a sounding board for the CEO, supporting a newly promoted, never having supervised manager, conflict resolution, polarity management, and/or revealing when the "emperor has no clothes" by speaking the unspeakable. (Foxhall, 2002, 52)

Kilburg, a consulting psychologist, suggests that executive coaching is more complex. He defines executive coaching as -

a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organization and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently to improve the effectiveness of the client's organization within a formally defined coaching agreement." (2000, 67)

Regardless of the perspective, executive coaching involves creating a learning environment that is complex and capable of holding the needs of the client, the power of the position and, the mission of the organization.

Qualifying the Coach

With the surge of people into the field of executive coaching, it becomes a bit wearisome to find a qualified coach. For example, there are two views. Berglas (2002, 4) suggests that executive coaches should:

  1. be schooled in more than sports metaphors,
  2. acknowledge that many executive issues are not solved with short and quick behavioral modifications, and
  3. be sufficiently schooled in the dynamics of psychotherapy to be able to know if deeper seated, psychological problems are involved. (Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, 211)

Combined with those conditions, others add another critical condition - if the coach understands and cares about business. This latter condition is as broad-brushed as the meaning of the term "business". Some suggest that the coach should be steeped in organizational behavior and leadership roles from top to bottom. Others suggest that a business background, such as an MBA or its experiential equivalent, is required (Foxhall, 2002, 52-53; Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, 212; Hart, Blattner, & Leipsic, 2001, 233,234) The long and short of the situation is that coaches are qualified along different lines. Some are excellent counselors, some are steeped in executive experience and therefore are excellent support for CEOs needing a sounding board to unravel strategic issues, and some are superb in motivating employees. In brief, depending on the contract with the client, "coaching executives requires knowledge about organizations, management, leadership, economics, and a host of other disciplines." (Diedrich & Kilburg, 2001, 203) A word to the wise, therefore, is to determine what type of coaching is needed and find a coach to match those needs. Presently, many organizations have addressed this issue within their Human Resources function. Coaches are required to complete questionnaires concerning their qualifications, coaching style, and areas of competency. Client needs are matched, with the clients completing the final selection process.

Working With Coaches

Coaching is often engaged when the executive is moving to the next level of career and/or personal development. In most cases, the coach is brought in to assist in the development of the individual. Noteworthy is that "coaching clients are usually valued by the company because of certain skills they possess and because they are highly motivated individuals. These clients are typically looking for ways to refine and enhance their current positions or move up into more advanced positions." (Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, 212) More recently, executives have recognized the value of an independent set of ears to act as a sounding board to sort through strategic issues. In these instances, the coach provides a voice or position that is not heard by the executive or spoken in ways that can be heard by the executive.


As much as there are different types of coaching, there are several requirements of being effectively coached. The learning executive (Lyons, 2000, 13), as the individual would be called in the work environment, typically, would have most, if not all, of the following behavioral traits. He or she will:

  • be assertive - the learner needs to make it clear about what they want to achieve.
  • take initiative - learners tell the coach when they need help.
  • be open and honest - learners need to inform the coach when not doing a task and explain why.
  • ask for feedback and suggestions - remind the coach to provide a full review of successes and mistakes so the big picture can be developed.
  • network - coaching creates opportunities to cross functional areas. Build networks.
  • clarify objectives - develop a written statement of objectives and monitor the progress towards completion.
  • take responsibility - to learn is a personal process that no one can manage but yourself. (Phillips, 1995).

These traits are consistent with the coaching orientation. "The coach's orientation is prospective, focusing on goals, untapped potential, and critical success factors in a whole person who seeks to maximize his or her fulfillment in life and work" (Hart, et. al., 2001, 230) These traits suggest that the core of coaching is to support the emergence of a more fully embodied individual.

Coaching Relationships

Developing a successful coaching relationship appears to "occur in six stages: relationship building, assessment, feedback, planning, implementation, and evaluation and follow-up." (Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001, 208) Giglio, Diamonte, and Urban (1998) expand the concept and suggest that the coach must move with the client through three phases with nine steps:

Phase I: Building commitment and personal transformation

Step 1. Establishing a learning relationship, not a telling relationship.
Step 2. Act as an objective information provider.
Step 3. Engage in joint problem identification.

Phase II: Moving the executive forward

Step 4. Build a credible data bank.
Step 5. Let the clients come to their own conclusions.
Step 6. Accept the situation and realization of the need to change.

Phase III: Facilitating the personal transformation

Step 7. Set action plans that are realistic, achievable and within the executive's control.
Step 8. Weave a safety net.
Step 9. Self-generate motivation and continuous improvement.

Regardless of the model, the focus of all coaching relationships should be on the negotiation of the work to be done, the actual work, and closing the work. Without each of these steps clearly defined, the potential success is lessened and the possibility dramatically increases of becoming an "evergreen", a potted tree that is trying to become a planted, permanent fixture.


Executive coaching has evolved significantly over the last five years. As more individuals move into the executive ranks that received coaching as part of their career development, executive coaching will surely transform itself further into a support function for many executives.


Herb Stevenson is President/CEO of the Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc. He has been an executive for over 25 years and management consultant/executive coach for over 20 years. He has published 26 books and is listed in eight Who's Who categories. He is on the post-graduate faculty of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, where he is Co-chair of the Organization and Systems Development program, Becoming an Effective Intervener. He is a faculty member of the College of Executive Coaches and he is on the graduate faculty of Cleveland State University's Masters degree in Psychology with a Diversity Management specialization.

References for entire series

Belf, Teri-E (2002) Coaching with Spirit San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer

Berglas, Steven. (2002) The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching. Harvard Business Review, June. 3-8.

Bergquist, William, Merritt, Kenneth, & Phillips, Steven (1999) Executive Coaching: An Appreciative Approach Sacremento: The Pacific Soundings Press

Bloch, S. (1995), Coaching tomorrow's top managers, Executive Development, 8, (5), 20-22.

Cascio, F. C., (1998) Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management, 5th. Ed. Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, N. J.

Diedrich, Richard C. & Kilburg, Richard R. (2001) Forward: Further Consideration of Executive Coaching as an Emerging Competency, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Vol. 53. No. 4, 203-204.

Dotlitch, David L. & Cairo, Peter C. (1999) Action Coaching San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Downs, Alan (2002) Secrets of an Executive Coach New York: AMACOM

Dutton, Gail (1997) Executive Coaches Call the Plays, Management Review, February, 38-43.

Flaherty, James. (1999) Coaching: Evoking Excellennce in Others Boston: Butterworth Heinemen

Foxhall, Kathryn, More Psychologists are attracted to the executive coaching field, Monitor on Psychology, April, 52-53

Goldsmith, Marshall; Lyons, Laurence; & Freas, Alyssa (2000) Coaching for Leadership San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeeiffer.
Giglio, L., Diamonte, T. and Urban, J. M. (1998). Coaching a leader: leveraging change at the top, Journal of Management Development, 17, (2), 93-115.

Hall, D. T., Otazo, K. I., Hollenbeck, G. P. (1999). Behind Closed Doors: What really happens in executive coaching, Organizational Dynamics, 27, (3) 39-53.

Hargrove, Robert (2003) Masterful Coaching San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer

Hart, Vickie; Blattner, John; and Leipsic, Staci. (2001) Coaching versus Therapy: A Perspective. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Vol. 53. No. 4, 229-237.

Hudson, Frederic M. (1999) The Handbook of Coaching, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Kampa-Koekesch, Sheila and Anderson, Mary Z. (2001) Executive Coaching: A Comprehensive Literature Review. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Vol. 53. No. 4, 205-228.

Kilburg, R. R. (2000) Executive Coaching: Developing managerial wisdom in a world of chaos. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association

Klage, J. (1997). Leadership development needs of today's organizational managers, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 18 (7), 355-362.

Lyons, Laurence S. (2000) Coaching at the Heart of Strategy. In Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, Alyssa Freas (Eds.) Coaching for Leadership: How the |World's Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn. (3-20) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer

Martin, Iris (1996) From Couch to Corporation: Becoming A Successful Corporate Therapist New York : John Wiley & Sons.

O'Neil, Mary Beth (2000) Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Phillips, R. (1995) Coaching for Higher Development, Executive Development, 8 (7), 5-7.

Redshaw, B., (2000). Do we really understand coaching? How can we make it work better? Industrial and Commercial training, 32 (3), 106-108.

Stephenson, Peter (2000) Executive Coaching Prentice-Hall

Vicere, A. A., (1998). Changes in practices, changes in perspectives, Journal of Management Development, 17, (7), 526-543.

Coaching - The Courage
to Be Engaged

In the prior issue we discussed some the traits that can be learned to support handling life's crises as they come versus being bulled over. As a recapitulation, Salvatore Maddi suggests that there are three determining factors surrounding how the situation will be handled. The degree of commitment, control, and challenge that you use to experience life. "If you are strong in commitment, you want to stay involved with people and events going on around you, as that seems the best way to find what is experientially interesting and meaningful. It seems wasteful to sink into isolation and alienation. If you are strong in control, you want to struggle to have an influence on the outcomes going on around you, even if this may seem difficult in certain circumstances. It seems wasteful to you to sink into powerlessness and passivity. Furthermore, if you are strong in challenge, you find the process of continuing to learn from your experiences, whether they are positive or negative, developmentally fulfilling. In contrast, having the entitled expectation of easy comfort and security, and therefore feeling threatened by change, seems superficial to you." (Maddi, 2004, 286)

An Example:

Jennifer, for 20+ years, had been a shining star with an amazing love of work. As her latest assignment was coming to a close, all the excitement of the past seemed to drain away and she became a shooting star heading straight towards the earth. Using Maddi's three indicators of level of commitment, degree of control and challenge, we engaged in a coaching process. Initially, it felt like chatting with a black hole in outer space, where all matter and energy is completely absorbed. As we continued the process, it became clear that she truly loved working for this company and had built an amazing support network. I asked what had changed that could turn such a love of people and place into such a dark void. In matter of fact terms, she noted that she had stepped out of her love, sales, and taken a lateral position to complete a downsizing of one of the corporate units; then, she had been asked to stay on the assignment to complete a transfer of the entire business unit to China. What had started as a 1-2 year assignment had grown to 3 years. Now, more fully trained in the business side of the organization, she was much more equipped for higher level positions. However, she was not sure she even wanted to stay with the company. At this point, I felt that she actually was still committed to the organization, as she would light up when chatting about prior successes in sales.

As we explored the situation, the conversation shifted to why she was not as interested in staying at the company. She seemed unable to muster any energy to want to influence the company or influence where her next position might be. She appeared to be in a place of powerlessness and passivity, even though indicators were that she stilled wielded plenty of power and influence, if she chose to use it. Notwithstanding, I was also well aware that if we did not directly address the situation, the organization was not interested in waiting too long for a shift in performance. Bottom line, we both knew time was ticking against us.

As we further discussed the situation, it became clear that she had lost interest in learning from her experience. Something over the last three years had tipped the scales.

Balance of Energies

I was aware that Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi had done work on how people vitally engage life. They noted that in vitally engaged people, flow requires a balance between the perceived capacities (what I perceive that I can do) and the perceived challenges (how difficult I perceive the task) of the situation. When "what I perceive I can do" (perceived capacity) matches "how difficult I perceive the task" (the perceived challenge) in a creative tension, it is possible to merge into a state of pure presence where self and other no longer are separate, creating a form of positive feedback.1 However, when the perceived capacity or the perceived challenge, exceeds the other, where the perception directs the focus of attention, attention is diverted from the interaction similar to a form of negative feedback. For example, excessive challenge to capacity would lead to worry, anxiety, and disrupting contact with the interaction. Excessive capacity/skill in relation to the challenge tends to lead to energy loss and boredom. In either situation, the tension between capacity/skill and challenge must be equal or contact is lost and therefore any potential for flow is lost.

Vital Engagement of Life - Flow

To live one's life on purpose, it helps to understand how to consciously live one's life - that is, to live with vitality, to vitally engage life. Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggest that when we are "completely absorbed in the interaction with the world, experience unfolds organically and it is possible to enter a state of flow." Flow is the vital engagement of life. It is characterized as:

  • intense and focused concentration on the here and now,
  • a loss of self-consciousness as action and awareness merge,
  • a sense that one will be able to handle the situation because one knows how to respond to whatever will happen next,
  • a sense that time has passed more quickly or slowly than normal, and
  • an experience of the activity as rewarding in and of itself, regardless of the outcome.

In common terms, it has been referred to as being "in sync", "(deep) in the zone", "lost (in the work)", and "consumed (by the moment)".

Characteristics that foster flow are:

  • clarity about one's immediate goals, throughout the interaction,
  • continuous and unambiguous feedback about the progress that one is making as the activity unfolds, much like a witnessing of oneself, and
  • perceived opportunities for action that stretch one's existing capacities.

In flow, people feel that their capacities are being fully used. They feel alive and are living on purpose.

Back to Jennifer

Until this most recent assignment, it seemed clear that Jennifer had been vitally engaged. Shifting my focus to get a better feel if an imbalance had occurred, we revisited the experience of the last three years. Interestingly, Jennifer discovered that she loved sales, thrived on being with people, and felt like she was totally herself. In the last three years, she found that she struggled daily to meet the near vertical curve of learning how to manage a complete business and all the financial details, how to turnaround what felt like a train heading the wrong way on the wrong set of tracks with no turn-wheel in site, and then how to transfer a complete business to a foreign country while closing existing facilities and laying-off personnel. It seemed clear that lack of balance between perceived challenge and perceived capacities had not only been long, but the experience had drained all stored resources.

In terms of Maddi's theory of the courage to face a crisis, it felt like Jennifer had lost her strong sense of commitment, control, and challenge. Hence, we agreed to complete an examination of what is really important to her and what makes her motivated. Completing a thoroughly and very in depth values assessment and an in depth assessment that reviews the highlights and shadows of one's career, we created a clearer picture of who Jennifer is at her core and what she really wants from her self, her family, and her career.

With such clarity, we explored what would be possible if she were to re-engage with the company. Slowly at first, momentum began to build as she completed a variety of scenarios of what might be interesting and possible. In time, she created an entirely new career plan, re-engaged her network to get buy-in to her rather aggressive plan, and she recommitted to the company. Rather than become a shooting start that crashes into the earth, she returned to the ranks of a beaming star. She was committed, in control and challenging herself and the organization.


In Gestalt terms, this balance would be called the zero point where creative indifference exists and transcendental change occurs.


Adapted and summarized from Nakamura, Jeanne & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2003) The Construction of Meaning Through Vital Engagement, in Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Well-lived Life. Eds. Corey M. Keyes and Jonathan Haidt. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association. 83-104

Maddi, Salvatore R (2004) Hardiness: An Operationalization of Existential Courage, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 44 No 3, 279-298

Upcoming Workshops
& Retreats

Discovering Our Way:
Natural Leadership Retreat

Blacktail Ranch
Wolf Creek, Montana
August 9-15, 2008

Join us in big sky Montana for a lived experience in Natural Leadership where you will identify, clarify and claim your natural ability to lead. We will leave life and work's familiar routine, complexity and technology to retreat into the clear open space of the natural world and the rich interior of our inner world.

Take the lead for an unforgettable experience in which you will create sustainable leadership and life changes. You were born a natural leader trusting your senses and responding in an authentic and natural way. Natural leadership begins with you being uniquely you and leading truer to your nature.

Find out more...

Fathers & Sons

Novelty, Ohio
August 6-9, 2008

The Fathers & Sons weekend workshop is an exploration into the relationship between Fathers & Sons. The focus is to delve deeply into the relational aspects by revealing our personal stories to each other. Dynamic exercises will be provided to support an inward journey and then the opportunity to share these private stories with each other.

Find out more...

Coaching Workshops
& How to Earn Coaching Certification

The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland specializes in coaching training and offers a wide selection of workshops throughout the year, including certification. Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at .