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Leading Edge Consortium Speakers Discuss How Executive Coaches’ Psychology Shapes Their Practice


by Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist

It was 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night when the message popped into her inbox. Dr. Joan Taylor, an executive coach with over 30 years experience working with top-level corporate executives, opened the e-mail from her newest client immediately. “Hey Coach, here’s one for you. I found out today from a credible source that one of my peers in Europe told a group of customers that I was shallow and simple-minded, and that our boss is a yes-man to the CEO. I’m furious. I’m inclined to call and confront him first thing tomorrow, but I wanted to get your take on the situation. What do you think I should do?”

Put yourself in Dr. Taylor’s shoes:

• What do you think is happening here?
• What additional information would you need to forge a response?
• What kind of response from you, the executive coach, would be most helpful to the client?
• How would the nature of your relationship with the client affect your response?
• How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your interaction with the client on this matter?

Although real-time challenges like this usually occur in the context of a longer-term relationship between an executive and a coach, they are useful in surfacing a coach’s working assumptions or theories about people, organizations, and the coaching process.

And, according to Dr. Douglas McKenna, these assumptions shape every step of the coaching engagement, from contracting to termination.

“Our working theories, based on our training and personal experience, influence how we address key issues in the coaching process,” he said. “For example, how do you balance safety and stretch in your coaching? Do you lean more toward giving advice or suggesting alternatives? Do you focus more on thinking or feeling?”

Dr. McKenna argues that coaches who have not reflected on their own working theories about the psychology of people and organizations often become the passive recipients of other people’s assumptions (e.g., via their use of popular assessment tools and process prescriptions in the literature).

On October 17th, Dr. McKenna and Dr. Sandra Davis will discuss this issue further when they kick off the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s 4th annual Leading Edge Consortium, entitled “Executive Coaching for Effective Performance: Leading Edge Practice and Research.” Dr. McKenna and Dr. Davis will address fundamental, and often overlooked, questions:

• How do an executive coach’s assumptions about people, organizations, and change affect the coaching process?
• How much psychological and organizational sophistication does an executive coach need to be effective?
• How do executive coaches know when they’ve crossed the boundary between coaching and therapy?
• What research questions are stimulated by thinking about the assumptions and working theories of executive coaches?
Between them, Drs. McKenna and Davis will bring a wealth of executive coaching experience to this opening session of the Leading Edge Consortium.

Dr. Davis, a counseling psychologist by training, is the Chief Executive Officer of Minneapolis-based MDA Leadership Consulting, which she founded in 1981. Dr. Davis is widely known and respected as an executive coach and thought leader in the industry. Over the past 23 years, her client list has grown to include top corporations headquartered in the Midwest.

Dr. McKenna, trained as a differential psychologist, is President of The Oceanside Institute, located on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Since 1986, Dr. McKenna has been involved as an executive coach with the Microsoft Corporation. From 1993 to 2001, he was General Manager of Human Resources and the original architect of Microsoft’s executive and leadership development function. Over the years, he has coached the company’s most senior leaders and rising stars.

Using cases to illustrate the difference that assumptions and theories make, McKenna and Davis will show the similarities and differences in the way they think about and approach coaching dilemmas and the coaching process itself.

“Coaching has become a billion dollar industry, attracting all sorts of people to the field, many with questionable psychological and organizational understanding.” McKenna said. “In our session, Sandra and I will challenge participants to think carefully about how their own working assumptions shape the way they coach. And in the end, we want to ask, what difference do these differences make?”

For more information about the Leading Edge Consortium, click here

Early registration deadline is August 29 so don't miss out.  You can register online here.