ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — June 2003

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When Executive Coaching Shifts
to Clinical Consultation
Observations From a “Reinvented” Coach
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When Executive Coaching Shifts to Clinical Consultation

Over the past few issues The Journal for Quality and Participation and News for a Change have explored the topic, “Coaching and Counseling.” Last month focused primarily on techniques for group coaching, and now we’re switching the focus to individual coaching and counseling.

Dr. Peter Graham, Ph.D., is the director of psychology services at the Professional Renewal Center. He has written the following article to help us differentiate between the two intervention approaches so that we can apply them appropriately and optimize outcomes for individuals and organizations.

As you know, hundreds of executive coaches have sprung up over recent years. Unfortunately, many of these coaches are consulting in areas that exceed their expertise. This article briefly compares and contrasts coaching and counseling to help ensure their correct application.

Executive coaching and counseling (clinical consultation/psychotherapy) can be deeply personal, psychological, and emotional interventions. Although some coaches have a great deal of business and life experience, few have the training to diagnose and treat emotional and mental problems. Similarly, some clinical psychologists have a great deal of clinical and organizational experience, but few have the training to diagnose problems with executive leadership, work group dysfunction, and organizational/corporate strategy and tactics.

When the usual challenges of executive life begin to transition into emotional problems such as stress and burnout, personality disorders, or mood disorders like depression and bipolar illness, coaches can begin to get in over their heads. Clinicians can begin to get in over their heads when the personal and emotional problems and disorders begin to transition into difficulty formulating strategy; realizing team goals; and/or building, marketing, and selling a product effectively.

Without the requisite training and experience needed in the areas of diagnosis and treatment pertinent to their respective domains, executive coaches and clinical psychologists who do not know the limits of their own practice unwittingly can compound problems that actually require trained help of the alternative variety. Those who are considering the use of an executive coach or psychotherapist or who are trying to gauge the limits of their current coaching/therapy relationship are well advised to keep these limits in mind.

Failing to identify when a coaching or therapeutic situation has reached its limits can result in a variety of poor outcomes. One end of the spectrum of poor outcomes involves money not well spent on a relatively innocuous intervention. The other end of the spectrum can involve an untreated mental illness, resulting in harm to the executive and possibly to his/her organization and/or family. It’s also a failed opportunity to capitalize on the latent potential of a leader, team, or whole organization, thereby squandering the future of the organization and altering the careers and lives of many employees. As is usually the case in the business and clinical world, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)!

Executive coaching:

  • Provides guidance in the areas of managing organizational change and personal change in the organizational context.
  • Hones the individual executive’s leadership style and effectiveness.
  • Provides an organizing framework from where the executive can better define his/her corporate strategy and vision.
  • Emphasizes the development of the person in the context of his/her work in the executive office.
  • Counsels leaders in the emotional and motivational aspects of work and work relationships.
  • Helps executives improve their interpersonal effectiveness and communication skills in the work setting.
  • Assists executives in understanding corporate leadership strengths and weaknesses.
  • Emphasizes the importance of learning the career lessons necessary to overcome adversity and to develop confidence and maturity in one’s work life.

Like their coaching counterparts in the sports world, executive coaches can be pivotal in maximizing individual, team, and company performance in the pursuit of corporate goals. When practiced ethically, coaching remains within the limits of the coach’s expertise and stays focused on the executive’s leadership, functionality, and development in the context of the work environment, work-related tasks, and work relationships. Coaching should remain within the bounds of this defined role and relationship and should not become a dual relationship, involving personal interaction outside the bounds of the work setting.

On the other hand, clinical consultation:

  • Provides guidance in the areas of managing personal change in the context of one’s private life and in the conduct of one’s public life from a private perspective.
  • Hones and provides a private, developmental understanding of the individual executive’s interpersonal style and effectiveness.
  • Provides an organizing framework where the executive can better define his/her private strategy and vision for his/her personal life.
  • Emphasizes the development of the person in the context of his/her private experience of work in the executive office.
  • Counsels leaders in the emotional and motivational aspects of life in general.
  • Helps executives improve their interpersonal effectiveness and communication skills in all settings.
  • Assists executives in understanding personal strengths and weaknesses in all life domains.
  • Emphasizes the importance of learning the personal and life lessons necessary to overcome adversity and to develop confidence and maturity in one’s personal life.

Clinical psychologists can be pivotal in maximizing individual, family, and group performance in the pursuit of the personal goals of the individuals and relational units involved. When practiced ethically, counseling remains within the limits of the clinician’s expertise. It stays focused on the executive’s psychological functioning and development in the context of all the relevant environments, life tasks, and relationships in general. Counseling should remain within the bounds of the defined clinical role and relationship and should not become a dual relationship, involving personal interaction outside the bounds of the private, therapeutic setting.

When appropriately deployed, both coaching and counseling can be used to improve individual, team, and organizational performance, but their focus is quite different, as are the interventions they use. It is wise, therefore, to have a clear understanding of the intended outcomes and to make sure that the consultant chosen has the proper credentials for the achieving those outcomes.

DR. PETER GRAHAM is an expert in the field of assessing and treating professionals with mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse/ dependence issues, personality disorders, and behavioral challenges. The Professional Renewal Center is an international treatment center for professionals with substance and/or behavioral addictions. Dr. Graham can be reached via e-mail at pgraham@prckansas.org .

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