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Leadership Group Coaching in Action: The Zen of Creating High Performance Teams

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Although one-on-one coaching can be very effective, this article advocates the benefits of leadership coaching in a group setting, because durable changes in leadership behavior are more likely to occur. Discussion is offered to show that leadership group coaching establishes a foundation of trust, makes for constructive conflict resolution, leads to greater commitment, and contributes to accountability, all factors that translate into better results for the organization. The article suggests that a change methodology centered on leadership group coaching creates high-performance teams, is an antidote to organizational silo formation, helps put into place boundaryless organizations, and makes for true knowledge management. A strong plea is made for aspiring leadership coaches to undergo clinical training to prepare them for the kind of deep-seated psychological problems that can derail the leadership coaching process. Commentary about the clinical approach to organizational intervention is included.
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Leadership group coaching in
action: The Zen of creating high
performance teams
Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
Executive Overview
Although one-on-one coaching can be very effective, this article advocates the benefits
of leadership coaching in a group setting, because durable changes in leadership
behavior are more likely to occur. Discussion is offered to show that leadership group
coaching establishes a foundation of trust, makes for constructive conflict resolution,
leads to greater commitment, and contributes to accountability, all factors that translate
into better results for the organization. The article suggests that a change methodology
centered on leadership group coaching creates high-performance teams, is an antidote to
organizational silo formation, helps put into place boundaryless organizations, and
makes for true knowledge management. A strong plea is made for aspiring leadership
coaches to undergo clinical training to prepare them for the kind of deep-seated
psychological problems that can derail the leadership coaching process. Commentary
about the clinical approach to organizational intervention is included. The article also
explores the similarities between leadership coaching and psychotherapy. Finally, the
article includes a discussion of a number of general concerns about leadership coaching.
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Consult your friend on all things, especially
on those with respect to yourself. His counsel
may then be useful where your own self-love
might impair your judgment.
—Seneca
No man is so foolish but he may sometimes
give another good counsel, and no man so
wise that he may not easily err if he takes no
other counsel than his own. He that is taught
only by himself has a fool for a master.
—Ben Johnson
A Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era re-
ceived a visitor who came to inquire about Zen.
The Zen master served his guest tea. He poured his
visitor’s cup full, but then kept on pouring. His
visitor watched the overflow with alarm until he
could no longer control himself. “The cup is over-
full. No more can go in it!” he cried out. “Like this
cup,” the Zen master replied, “you are full of your
own opinions, beliefs, and assumptions. How can I
teach you anything unless you first empty your
cup?”
As this anecdote illustrates, Zen Buddhism has
as its fundamental purpose the awakening of the
mind and the individual attainment of spiritual
enlightenment. A Zen teacher is concerned with
self-help and helping others with wisdom and
compassion. Given this mindset, Zen teachers can
be seen as forerunners of leadership coaches. Like
Zen teachers, such coaches provide learning op-
portunities by giving constructive and balanced
feedback. They serve as sparring partners. They
help their clients reflect on their own actions. As a
way of clarifying and enhancing consciousness,
coaching has become the Zen for executives. With
executives finally realizing the value of coaching,
the coaching market—now a multi-billion-dollar
enterprise—is ballooning. Originally carried out
by “one-person bands,” leadership coaching has
become a major activity for many large consulting
firms.
Why this staggering interest in coaching? Why
does every self-respecting executive now demand
a coach? Various answers can be given to these
Academy of Management Executive, 2005, Vol. 19, No. 1
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61
questions. Perhaps the biggest reason for the
coaching trend is the pace of change in our
present-day global world. In many businesses and
circumstances, what was an effective way of run-
ning a business five years ago is no longer valid
today. Competencies that proved to be highly ef-
fective in the past have become outdated, and the
new competencies threaten to be mothballed even
more quickly. There is relentless pressure on exec-
utives to transform their way of thinking to accom-
modate present-day realities while achieving stel-
lar bottom-line results.
With these changes, coaching and commitment
cultures have replaced the command, control, and
compartmentalization orientations of the past. It
has not been an easy transition, because organi-
zations that are flat, boundaryless, or virtual, and
organizations that rely on networking structures,
put much higher demands on the “emotional intel-
ligence quotient” (EQ) of executives. The emphasis
on managing interpersonal relationships has
grown as organizational leaders have come to re-
alize that talent and human capital are what dif-
ferentiates mediocre from high-performing organi-
zations. The war for talent is a never-ending
reality. Furthermore, people are being promoted to
senior executive positions at an ever-younger age.
Whatever the age, joining an executive team en-
tails an enormous amount of stress. Top execu-
tives’ legal and corporate governance responsibil-
ities are growing as well, adding to the pressure.
As a result, being invited to take on such a role
often creates enormous feelings of insecurity and
loneliness. The overused complaint of “having no-
body to talk to” is not just an empty statement for
most fast-track executives, who learn that the
higher they are in the organization, the more diffi-
cult it is to talk to others about their issues and
concerns.
Because the traditional psychological contract
between employer and employee has been broken
through endless downsizing and reengineering,
other more creative ways of retaining and inspir-
ing talented people need to be found. Likewise,
new ways are needed to help reinvent and revital-
ize highly stressed executives and prevent burn-
out. Recognizing the pressures placed upon them,
high-achieving executives are eager to accommo-
date competencies, skills, and experiences to
present-day realities. They know that without con-
tinuous learning and development they will be left
behind in our ever-changing global environment.
Thus the opportunity to continue to learn and to
renew oneself has become a great motivator. No
wonder coaching, with its potential to establish,
fine-tune, or rebuild the competencies needed to
remain effective in the workplace, has become one
of the most powerful strategic and tactical weap-
ons in the executive repertoire.
Leadership Group Coaching: A Case Study
It was obvious from the strained small talk and the
jokes that the eight people in the room—seven men
and one woman who were members of the execu-
tive committee of an information technology firm—
were more than a little anxious. This was unusual,
because these board members were typically self-
confident and in control, and had a well-rehearsed
script for meetings that they happily enacted as if
on automatic pilot. This time things were different,
however. Today’s gathering was clearly not going
to be business as usual. Their new CEO had asked
them to participate in a high-performance team-
building workshop facilitated by an external lead-
ership coach. They had no idea what to expect.
Worse yet (from their perspective) they had been
asked to complete a number of 360-degree feed-
back instruments. Sitting together now—their
faces revealing a mixture of curiosity and anxi-
ety—they were wondering what their colleagues,
subordinates, friends, and family members had to
say about them.
They had reason to worry. For over half a year,
clouds had been hanging over their organization.
The company, a well-established firm in its indus-
try, was not as nimble as it should have been,
making a takeover threat from a much smaller
competitor a truly frightening prospect. Future job
security was at stake for many employees. Only a
few months ago, the non-executive board members
had finally realized that the CEO couldn’t turn the
company around, and they asked him to resign.
Realizing that new blood was required to shake
the company out of its complacency—to make it
less bureaucratic, more entrepreneurial, and more
results-oriented—they had hired a new CEO with a
different profile. The non-executive board had
made it clear that it was up to him to bring corpo-
rate returns to a level that matched, or bettered, the
standards of the industry.
After his initial appraisal of the situation, the
new CEO decided one of his main priorities was to
form a stronger and more effective top executive
team. It was clear to him that the present team
wasn’t an exemplary decision-making body. From
his first encounter with the group, he observed that
meetings tended to drift, priorities changed almost
on a whim, accountability and follow-up were
lacking, and the various executive board members
had trouble arriving at closure. The new CEO
sensed the presence of a considerable amount of
62 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
unspoken conflict among the executive team. Par-
ticipation during meetings was extremely uneven,
which the CEO gradually realized was a result of
the fact that several fiefdoms had been estab-
lished, leading to block voting. It also became
clear to him that the various members of the exec-
utive group didn’t feel accountable to each other.
As a result of all this, there had long been a lack of
focus under the former CEO, a problem that was
widely noticed at lower levels in the organization
(as had been clearly indicated in company-wide
satisfaction surveys). Not surprisingly, many of the
complaints centered on the fact that the board
members appeared to be giving conflicting sig-
nals.
The executive board members were aware of
this and therefore were somewhat anxious, not
only about the prospective teambuilding exercise
but also about the new CEO’s plans for the future.
They knew that things had to change, but how
would pending changes affect their positions in
the firm? These concerns made a teambuilding
exercise — with its associated feedback and self-
disclosure—amuchmorerisky and anxiety-rid-
den exercise for this particular group than it would
have been for people at lower levels of the organi-
zation.
The new CEO had experienced similar interac-
tions in his previous position, and he knew that
mutual accountability was often more difficult to
establish at the top level of an organization. There
was always potential for conflict between corpo-
rate and line-of-business goals. He also realized
that the stakes tended to be much higher for people
at the board level, given the executives’ personal
goals. He was confident, however, that the leader-
ship group exercise in which his team was about to
participate would provide results and lead to im-
provement.
Breaking the Ice
The leadership coach started the process by en-
gaging the group in conversation centered on ef-
fective and dysfunctional leadership. He led the
group into a discussion about the characteristics of
high-performance teams and organizations, a
topic to which they devoted considerable amount
of time. He asked the executives to contribute ex-
amples of what they viewed as good and bad
leadership. Building on these examples, he asked
individuals to talk about a personal “Everest expe-
rience,” or feeling of “flow”
1
—situations when
they’d felt at their best as a leader. This led to an
interesting exchange among group members con-
cerning their views about the competencies the
future leaders of their organization should have,
and what selection, development, and reward pro-
cesses were needed to hire and retain this type of
leader.
After a break, the leadership coach explained
the common difficulties associated with giving
and receiving feedback. He pointed out that most
executives tend to be “over-estimators” with an
exaggerated sense of their effectiveness at work.
(He jokingly added, “Present company excepted, of
course.”) He explained the theory behind the kind
of 360-degree feedback instruments they had com-
pleted prior to the workshop, and how these instru-
ments help executives to understand their own
competencies and weaknesses. In this case they
had used The Global Executive Leadership Inven-
tory, an instrument that measures leadership in
twelve dimensions, including: visioning, empow-
ering, energizing, designing and aligning, reward-
ing and feedback, teambuilding, outside orienta-
tion, tenacity, global mind-set, and emotional
intelligence. This instrument also includes dimen-
sions that evaluate resilience to stress and life
balance.
2
The members of the executive board had com-
pleted the questionnaire themselves, and each
had asked seven to ten work colleagues to be his or
her or personal “observers.” The observers had
answered the same questions about the target par-
ticipant, and in addition, they were asked to write
answers to three questions: What behavior should
the executive continue doing? What behavior
should he or she develop further? What behavior
should he or she eliminate? Answering these ques-
tions gave observers the opportunity to make spe-
cific recommendations about how the person being
rated could be more effective. Their responses to
these questions would make the feedback session
even more relevant for each participant.
The responses to all the questionnaires had
been summarized in a report that compared the
results of self-reporting with the aggregated re-
sults of their observers’ questionnaires. To help the
test-takers further analyze the results, the observ-
ers’ ranking of the leader in each dimension were
also separated into categories: superior(s), co-
workers, subordinates, direct reports, and others,
with no names attached. The leadership coach
showed the group a sample graph to explain the
different categories that each person would see
when they received their own personalized feed-
back material. (See Figure 1 for an example of the
summary report cover page.)
In addition, to complement the behavioral di-
mensions measured by The Global Executive Life
Inventory, each board member had been asked to
2005 63Kets de Vries
complete The Personality Audit.
3
This 360-degree
instrument differs from the Global Executive Lead-
ership Inventory in that it measures personality
dimensions (presented in the form of polarities)
such as sense of self-esteem, conscientiousness,
trust, assertiveness, extroversion, mood state, and
adventurousness. For this questionnaire, the lead-
ership coach had specified that the observers
should be a significant other or spouse, and two
colleagues at the office who were both well ac-
quainted with the participant (for example, one
superior and one subordinate). The summarized
results of this questionnaire, which were not anon-
ymous, offered the executives the opportunity to
see the way their observers—work colleagues or
personal contacts— differed in their evaluation of
the leader’s personality traits. This feedback
would help the executives understand how they
managed their public and private selves, and
would illustrate the level of consistency of their
presentation of self. In addition, the responses
would reveal differences in how people managed
upward versus downward. Once again, the lead-
ership coach carefully explained the presentation
of the Personality Feedback page to the partici-
pants. (See Figure 2 for an example of The Person-
ality Audit report.)
To encourage more personal feedback, each par-
ticipant had been told to ask a number of good
friends and family members to respond in writing
to questions such as, “What’s the first thing that
comes to mind when you think about this person?”
and “What should this person change about him-
or herself?” Finally, the executives had been asked
to complete a short biographical sketch to help the
leadership coach better understand the general
background of each person.
At the end of the first day of the leadership team-
building workshop (the first phase of a three-day
leadership group coaching process), after the sam-
ple feedback graphs had been presented and all
questions about the process had been answered,
each member of the executive team was given an
envelope containing the feedback information that
had been assembled for him or her. The leadership
coach suggested that they study this feedback
carefully on their own and sleep on the results in
order to be prepared for next day’s program. He
counseled them, tongue-in-cheek, not to go on a
witch-hunt to identify or retaliate against the peo-
ple who may have given them a low rating on a
dimension. “Killing the bastards who gave you
unpleasant feedback,” he said, “is not a productive
exercise, although it might feel good!” His advice
was to calmly thank everyone who had worked
hard and had the courage, to give each of them
FIGURE 1
John Smith Summary Page: Global Executive Leadership Inventory
64 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
feedback. As a caveat, he reminded them that in-
dividuals—this time, “present company includ-
ed!”—are highly complex, and far too complicated
to sum up via a simple questionnaire. Question-
naire results, he said, weren’t an end in them-
selves; rather, they offered a jumping-off point for a
constructive discussion about future career
choices and decisions. As a final quip, he men-
tioned that his experience with people had taught
him that everyone seems normal until you get to
know them better—and then everyone is revealed
to be positively abnormal, flawed by interesting
quirks.
Not all members of the executive team had a
restful night after opening their envelopes, given
the feedback they had received. Although much of
the feedback concerning their leadership of the
company came as no great surprise to them, it was
nonetheless disturbing to see it so clearly summa-
rized in a report. (At their level in the organization,
honest feedback wasn’t usually part of the deal;
subordinates often said what they thought execu-
tives wanted to hear.) During the course of a late
evening, while reading a mixture of praise and
condemnation, the executives began to spin out
rationalizations to explain any low ratings they
had received.
Group Coaching Dynamics
As the morning session began on the second day,
some of the executives seemed quite defensive
about the feedback found in the envelopes. The
leadership coach understood the reason for this; he
knew that a main precondition for an effective
intervention is a relationship of mutual trust and
respect between coach and client. Trust and re-
spect are the foundation of what clinical psychol-
ogists call the working alliance. Research has
shown that, as in the case of psychotherapy, the
most important factor in making leadership coach-
ing successful is the quality of the coach-client
working alliance.
4
An important task for the coach
in this session would be to help the executives
relax so they could reflect honestly on their observ-
ers’ comments.
The leadership coach explained the next phase:
each of the executive board members in turn would
be asked to share with the group the feedback he
or she had received, and the other group members
would give their reactions to that feedback—a two-
step process that would help the individual partic-
ipants formulate a personal leadership develop-
ment plan. He mentioned that they needed to
manage the time carefully, so that each of them
would have approximately ninety minutes “in the
limelight.” After this short introduction, he asked
who would like to start the process. After a moment
of distinct unease, one of the executives, John, in-
dicated his willingness to volunteer. The leader-
ship coach asked John whether he was prepared to
share the information he had received with the
other members of his team. After receiving a some-
what hesitant affirmative, the leadership coach
FIGURE 2
Summary: The Personality Audit
2005 65Kets de Vries
used an overhead projector to display the sum-
mary data of The Global Executive Leadership In-
ventory and The Personality Audit for John on the
screen.
After the other participants had had time to read
and absorb the material, the leadership coach
asked them how they would interpret the informa-
tion summarized from The Global Executive Lead-
ership Inventory. After a lengthy pause, one com-
mented that John seemed to be an over-estimator,
rating himself higher than his observers in the
organization had rated him. Soon other people
joined in the discussion, offering comments about
other variances between John’s self-assessment
and the assessment of others. To complement and
focus the presentation of the data, the leadership
coach read out some of the written comments that
John had received from his observers. The most
telling dealt with John’s need for details, his prob-
lems in delegation, his inclination to take over
work from weak subordinates, his occasional
moodiness, and his tendency to work too hard and
get stressed out.
When the discussion turned to The Personality
Audit, the leadership coach pointed out that the
assertiveness dimension indicated that John was
something of a “tiger” in the office but a “pussycat”
at home, an observation that resulted in a certain
degree of hilarity. Although John perceived himself
as quite extroverted, at home—at least according
to his wife— he was rather withdrawn; her ratings
also indicated that he should be more adventurous
in his dealings with her. The Personality Audit also
showed a fairly high rating on the conscientious-
ness dimension, confirming John’s tendency to-
ward micro-management. The supplemental per-
sonal feedback pages were revealing as well. The
leadership coach asked John to read aloud some of
the observations made by family and friends.
Many expressed concern that he seemed to be un-
der too much stress and that he should learn how
to delegate more effectively — advice which sur-
prised John, since he had not been aware that
people considered him a micro-manager. Other
comments indicated that he should be more care-
ful about his health, and that he should set clearer
boundaries between his private and business life.
Some commented that he was sometimes moody or
hypersensitive. There were positive comments as
well. For example, some observers mentioned the
creative way John tackled and solved problems
that other people had given up on.
During this discussion of the various forms of
feedback, the leadership coach made sure that
John’s observed strengths were emphasized and
his weaknesses reframed in a positive way to re-
duce defensive reactions. The coach knew that this
kind of reframing was a very effective way to re-
inforce self-esteem and make the participant more
willing to make and effort to change. He also knew
that timing was critical. Hard experience had
taught him that when the timing is not right, it is
better to stay silent. Contrary to the advice in the
old adage, he believed it was better to “strike when
the iron is cold.” When the issue is “too hot,” peo-
ple don’t hear what is being said.
5
In addition, he
went to great lengths to present observations in
the context of the experiences of others. He knew
that such an approach took the sharp edges off
some of the more critical behavioral observations.
After the first phase of the feedback review, the
leadership coach asked John if he could mention a
few things about his background as a way of help-
ing the others understand his way of looking at the
world. The leadership coach helped him structure
his narrative by asking him a number of questions.
Among the questions included were: Can you say
a few things about your personal background?
Can you describe events/situations (personal, or-
ganizational, or both) that affected your career in a
significant way? Can you say something about the
best/worst times in your life? What kind of people
do you admire? What do you see as your greatest
accomplishments? What was your greatest failure/
disappointment? What makes you angry, happy,
mad, or sad? What regrets do you have as you look
back on your life? If you could change three things
in your life, what would they be? How do you look
at the future? The other participants found the re-
sponses to this information extremely helpful, be-
cause it gave them a different view of a person
who had been their colleague for many years.
Following this part of the session, John was
asked to be silent and just listen to what the others
had to say. The leadership coach asked the others
what thoughts had come to mind when they heard
John talk. What kind of feelings did they have
while listening to his narrative? What were their
“fantasies” or associations while listening to John?
To stimulate the group’s creative thinking, he
asked, “If John were an animal, what animal did
they think he would be?” This particular question
evoked many responses. Some mentioned a watch-
dog, like a German shepherd; others referred to a
rat in a cage. Another person strayed from the
animal motif and compared him to the mythologi-
cal figure Sisyphus, endlessly pushing his rock up
a hill. What stood out in the discussion were John’s
strong work ethic, his driven nature, his need for
control and, once again, his tendency toward
micro-management.
Next, each member of the team was asked, “as a
66 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
friend,” what advice he or she would give John to
help him become even more effective. This ques-
tion prompted an intense discussion. Two of the
participants made disparaging remarks about cer-
tain members of John’s management team and
suggested that he should stop protecting those “in-
competents” and avoid doing their work in addi-
tion to his own. He had enough work to do as it
was. These respondents felt that he should take
the tough step of letting some of the subordinates
go. One team member suggested that he should
reorganize and simplify his department’s structure
rather than having 12 people reporting to him. Still
another participant complained about how diffi-
cult it was to approach John and the people who
reported to him. This participant said that al-
though the company claimed to aspire to be a
networking, boundaryless organization, John,
through his territorialism and his anger when peo-
ple approached his team without his consent, had
created what the participant referred to as a
“silo”—that is, a part of the organization that was
extremely hard to enter. This latter comment took
John by surprise. He had never realized that his
behavior gave this impression.
During this process the leadership coach was
actively listening and trying to comprehend the
key issues that John faced. He also offered tenta-
tive suggestions of other ways that John could act
in certain situations, should they come up again.
By reframing some of the colleagues’ suggestions,
he helped John to become more aware of conscious
and unconscious influences on his behavior. He
helped John see connections between critical life
situations he had mentioned in his description of
himself and the problems he was having in the
workplace. Why did he have such a great need for
control? What was behind his reluctance to dele-
gate more? Why did he get so moody? Why did he
protect incompetents? During this exchange, the
leadership coach used humor as a highly effective
means of clarifying certain points and defusing
tension.
When the discussion had reached closure after
some time, John was asked how he felt, what he
had distilled from everyone’s feedback, and what
had been most important to him during the discus-
sion. He now had the opportunity to reply to the
various observations. When he had said his piece,
the leadership coach summarized the major points
of the discussion (which had been jotted onto a flip
chart as they came up) and these were presented
as part of John’s personal leadership development
plan. The leadership coach explained that when
all members of the group had discussed their feed-
back, they would end the session with a discussion
of how to design their own personal development
plans.
This same rather intensive feedback exercise
took place for each member of the executive team
in turn, with each participant identifying issues to
be included in their personal leadership develop-
ment plan. Although the exercise was the same,
the atmosphere was not: people were tense and
hesitant to contribute at the outset, but they grad-
ually became more comfortable and spontaneous.
The group leadership coaching exercise created
for the members of the executive team a “transi-
tional space” or holding environment aimed at un-
derstanding and resolution, a place where they
were able to play and experiment safely.
6
As a result of the group dynamics of these dis-
cussions, the different roles played by the mem-
bers of the executive team were clarified and the
effects of the various leadership styles on the
group as a whole became clearer. They recognized
how they could complement each other, how they
could build on each other’s strengths to become
more effective as a team. At that point, one board
member remarked to another, “We’ve worked to-
gether now for 28 years. It’s sad that I learned more
about you in the past two days than I had in all the
previous years. But now I have a better sense of
your strengths and weaknesses, and I understand
what you stand for. I think we’ll be able to work
together more effectively now.”
Before closing the workshop, the leadership
coach discussed the importance of the personal
development plan. He asked each member of the
executive team to state out loud what he or she had
learned during the past two days, and which one
or two areas each of them planned to work on. (The
leadership coach had learned that setting too
many goals was unwise. Trying to do too many
things at the same time carried the strong risk that
nothing would get done.) He also asked them how
they were going to deal with the people who had
provided them with feedback. How would they in-
volve those friends and colleagues in bringing
about changes in behavior? He mentioned that
involving the persons that gave them feedback
would make changes in behavior more likely.
7
In
addition, he asked them to put down in writing a
realistic, measurable action plan (with a timeline)
that would be circulated among the other members
of the group. Stressing the importance of having an
internal leadership coach to monitor progress, he
suggested that they ask one or two people in the
executive group to help them monitor and assist
them to implement the desired changes. Finally,
the leadership coach set a date (approximately two
months later) when they would have a follow-up
2005 67Kets de Vries
meeting to discuss what they had done and how
well they had met their set objectives. The leader-
ship coach knew from experience that a follow-up
process was essential for successful change.
Creating High EQ Teams
The benefits that came out of the leadership group
coaching exercise far exceeded the expectations of
the CEO who had initiated it. Over time, they be-
came more of a high EQ team.
8
The members of the
team became also more aware of the interpersonal
role in which they consciously or unconsciously
had cast themselves.
9
They recognized that, just as
they had taken on a particular role in their own
family while growing up, they now frequently oc-
cupied a parallel role in the workplace. They iden-
tified such roles as martyr, scapegoat, cheerleader,
peacemaker, hero, and clown. They also began
figuring out the complementary roles that others
had been placed in, and thus saw how other mem-
bers of the executive team could be used more
effectively.
10
They also acquired insight into mal-
adaptive interpersonal patterns that weakened the
team, discovering how such patterns, and the col-
lusive relationships that underlay them, contrib-
uted to the team’s lack of effective conflict resolu-
tion, lack of focus, and reduced productivity. After
the workshop, one of the members of the team
half-jokingly said, “In the past our meetings were
get-togethers where some of us said what we
really didn’t think, while others didn’t say what we
really did think! I hope we will be able to change
this pattern.”
By participating in the intensive group coaching
process, the members of the team learned what it
meant to coach others; the group exercise helped
them acquire a new interpersonal tool in their rep-
ertoire. In particular, they learned how to become
better listeners. They saw that listening is a pre-
condition for any meaningful relationship, be-
cause it fosters understanding. And better relation-
ships mean better business, because people who
feel heard and understood are easier to motivate
and influence.
There were many other benefits that came out of
the group leadership coaching exercise. The exec-
utive board members felt that they had become
much more of a team. As a result of the team-
building session their common goals and values
had become much more explicit. There was a
higher level of trust and mutual respect among
them. They also noticed during subsequent meet-
ings that team objectives were no longer being
affected by an undercurrent of personal objec-
tives.
11
Turf fights were rare. When someone
strayed and resorted to behavior that the team now
recognized as dysfunctional, the others stepped in
to remind the person of the promises made during
the “infamous” teambuilding session. They were
no longer willing to let such behavior slip by. In
addition to having better relationships with the
other team members, board members were able to
use their newly acquired coaching skills to im-
prove relationships with direct reports.
Communication within the executive team be-
came more focused, less conflicting, and therefore
less energy-draining. As the executive board mem-
bers concentrated on what was really important to
the organization, endless discussions lacking res-
olution and commitment became a thing of the
past. Whereas before there had been some “silent
types”— executives who rarely spoke—all mem-
bers of the executive team now participated. And
they did so frankly, openly, and honestly, engag-
ing in constructive conflict resolution and eschew-
ing politics. As a result, the members of the exec-
utive team felt more accountable to each other and
to the organization. They took ownership and re-
sponsibility for their decisions and behaviors and
followed up on their actions. Conflict between the
members of the team and other members of the
organization was reduced as speaking and listen-
ing took place at a deeper level.
Keeping in mind the feedback they had received,
the executives attempted to unlearn specific be-
havior patterns that had proved to be ineffective.
With the new climate of collegiality, they now
found it acceptable to ask each other for help when
in a difficult situation. Likewise, talking about per-
sonal matters was no longer taboo, which made
the executives more willing to express concerns
about their life-work balance. Becoming, in effect,
a mutual support group, they experienced more
satisfaction and fulfillment in their work and per-
sonal life. What this group exercise did for them
was help them become a true high-performance,
high-EQ team: they shared common goals and val-
ues; they respected (and built on) each other’s dif-
ferences; and they learned to use the complemen-
tarities in their leadership styles to create an
effective executive role constellation.
In addition to changes that each board member
initiated after the workshop, there were changes
imposed from above. Encouraged by the exercise,
the CEO reassigned the roles of some members of
the executive group so that their duties were more
in line with their real talents. For example, to help
one executive come to grips with his conflict-
avoidant behavior, the CEO asked him to turn
around a very messy situation at a foreign subsid-
iary. Another executive (John, the one who favored
68 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
silo formation) was given a very different portfolio
in the executive team— one that was less people-
intensive and more future planning oriented. This
reassignment, the CEO felt, would prevent depart-
mental isolation. Another executive, after reflect-
ing for several weeks on the feedback he had re-
ceived at the workshop, decided that he didn’t
really fit in the team. Feeling that he would be more
effective in another organization, he resigned.
Looking back on the leadership group coaching
process, the CEO was quite satisfied. The leader-
ship coach had quickly created a safe transitional
space for the executives in which they felt at ease
while narrating their story. Throughout the pro-
cess, the person who was being discussed en-
gaged in a journey of self-discovery, while the
other members of the group vicariously learned
from his or her story and validated the experience.
Thus, all of the participants not only engaged in a
problem solving exercise (in the form of making
action recommendations) but also learned how to
practice their leadership coaching skills. Going
through this process of mutual exploration also
implicated the group in supporting the action plan
of the person who was in the limelight, making
behavioral change more likely. (For a summary of
the process of the leadership group exercise see
Figure 3.)
To summarize, the group leadership coaching
exercise allowed the executive team to reflect on
each member’s leadership style. It enabled them to
deal with personal issues that had been lying dor-
mant for a long time and to develop strong rela-
tionships based on trust and mutual respect. That
foundation of trust fostered a genuine exchange of
information, broke down barriers, exposed the “un-
discussables,” and promoted true conflict resolu-
tion. The discussions the executive board members
had during the workshop, and the more open com-
munication they practiced afterward, helped them
rethink priorities, and reshape the future of their
organization and improve the financial results.
Since they were no longer “playing the violin while
Rome was burning,” they developed a specific
strategy that enabled them to ward off the takeover
threat. A follow-up session three months later con-
firmed the robustness of the leadership group
coaching intervention, as did a subsequent fol-
low-up a year later.
Making Executive Team Coaching Work
I have learned from hard experience that if you
want to change people, merely dealing with cog-
nition is not enough. Changing behavior necessi-
tates a double-pronged approach: dealing with
Figure 3
The Leadership Group Coaching Process
2005 69Kets de Vries
cognition and affect.
12
As the case study example
above illustrates, such a strategy really pays off
when leadership coaching takes place in groups,
especially “natural” working groups. That is not to
say that individual leadership coaching doesn’t
work. On the contrary, successful leadership
coaching is often the outcome of a one-on-one pro-
cess. However, private coaching sessions rarely
have a lasting impact, in part because they are too
infrequent. All too often, when the coached indi-
vidual is back in his or her working environment,
“automatic pilot” takes over and wipes out lessons
learned. In addition, the business and private en-
vironment often act as a “rubber fence,” bouncing
the client right back to the starting point despite
the person’s best efforts to change aspects of his or
her behavior. Thus the question whether people
can change must be answered in the affirmative,
but whether people will change has to be an-
swered with a maybe!
13
The Role of Commitment
We have also discovered that too many people in
search of change have a “dream.” The “dream”
goes something like this: “I will start exercising.” “I
will start dieting.” “I will stop smoking.” But in
reality nothing happens. Unfortunately, having
good intentions isn’t good enough. External pres-
sure is needed. When a smoker says in public, “I’m
going to stop smoking,” that person involves oth-
ers, giving them a stake in the process. After hear-
ing such an announcement, they are not likely to
offer the person a cigarette or even to give one
when asked. This public process changes the “rub-
ber fence” into a much more robust foundation of
support. What makes group leadership coaching
so effective is that participants become committed
to helping each other change. The leadership
coach who sets the process in motion is eventually
assisted by a number of volunteer “assistant
coaches” who help each other stay on the right
track.
The members of the group set boundaries that
become an important force in behavior change;
they help each person live up to his or her prom-
ises. Because shame, guilt, and hope are powerful
motivating forces (as I am somewhat reluctant to
point out), when an individual is tempted to fall
back on old behavior patterns, the visualization of
the group’s disapproval often acts as an effective
deterrent. It’s as if the group becomes internalized
within each member.
The Role of Storytelling
The support and acceptance given by the group
also facilitate change, because they instill in each
participant a sense of hope about the future. The
powerful emotional experiences that come out of
group leadership coaching are also change facili-
tators. As people reveal something about them-
selves by telling their life stories, talking about the
experiences that shaped them, and sharing the
feedback they received through assessments, they
undergo a journey of self-understanding. Telling
personal stories is a powerful way of exploring the
self.
14
It creates a readiness for interpersonal
learning and insight, lays the foundation for work-
ing through internal conflicts and crises, and helps
a person arrive at meaningful, personal life inte-
gration. In other words, by telling personal stories,
people rediscover themselves, obtaining a better
understanding of their own life. Listening to stories
is a powerful learning experience as well: it allows
for the vicarious instruction of role modeling and
gives an empathic understanding of the questions
the speaker is struggling with.
The Role of Trust
Growth can come out of the telling and hearing of
stories only if trust binds all the participants in the
group. Unfortunately, trust building isn’t easy for
highly competitive people. In many organizations,
trust is an extremely rare commodity. After all,
relationships of trust depend on our willingness to
look not only to our own interests, but also to the
interests of others. For trust to exist, we need to
deal with such complicated issues as openness,
honesty, active listening, communication, consis-
tency, competence, fairness, and mutual respect.
15
Trust is a delicate flower: it doesn’t take much to
crush it, and once destroyed, it takes a very long
time to nurture it back into bloom. But if trust is
honored and protected, it flourishes and bears
good fruit. Trust makes for constructive conflict
resolution; constructive conflict resolution makes
for genuine commitment; and commitment makes
for accountability—all factors that have an enor-
mous impact on the bottom line of an organization.
The case example given earlier illustrates what
can happen when leadership coaching takes place
in groups. When people get to know each other
better, when they understand each other’s leader-
ship styles, when they have a good sense of each
other’s competencies, and when they understand
the nature of each other’s work, there is a greater
likelihood that they will trust each other. In the
“transitional space” of the coaching workshop,
70 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
people open up and begin to share information,
talking about the issues that really preoccupy
them. They stop beating about the bush, they stop
playing politics, and they start to support each
other.
In the cyber society of today — in the virtual
teams that are becoming ever more common in the
global marketplace — the building of trust is even
more important, and even more of an uphill battle.
To make virtual teams effective, an enormous in-
vestment in relationship-building needs to be
made up front. It’s impossible to e-mail a smile or
a handshake. Personal relationships and face-to-
face communication, not electronic communica-
tion, build trust. And yet only when a significant
degree of trust exists between various parties can
one expect effective interaction between individu-
als and groups located in different parts of the
world. Without the glue of trust, teams don’t work
well and virtual teams don’t work at all.
Knowledge management can’t take place in the
absence of trust. If knowledge is power, why share
it? Who would share information with someone he
or she doesn’t trust? When people trust each other,
they have an incentive to share; once they open up
to each other, they know what to share and how
and why to do so. Thus only when there is a solid
degree of trust between executives can there be
true knowledge management.
16
Unfortunately,
many people who are in the knowledge manage-
ment business don’t seem to have figured that out!
In spite of all the hoopla, knowledge management
has in many instances been a less than successful
concept. That’s because its advocates focus their
attention on the building of data banks and don’t
deal with the human factor. Setting up an exten-
sive, state-of-the-art data bank isn’t knowledge
management; investing heavily in electronic man-
agement systems isn’t knowledge management.
Vehicles for storing and categorizing knowledge
do exist; but they are only tools. It’s people that in
the end acquire, manipulate, and manage knowl-
edge. Thus true knowledge management means
creating teams and organizations in which the par-
ticipants trust each other and realize the benefits
of knowledge sharing for everybody involved. True
knowledge management means the creation of so-
cial networks, of communities. True knowledge
management implies paying attention to the un-
conscious life of organizations.
Beyond Traditional Organizational Intervention
As the case study above illustrates clearly, lead-
ership group coaching, led by an experienced
A Clinical Orientation
Many organizations offer leadership
coaching programs, but in many instances
their training of coaches can be seen as
questionable. There are exceptions,
however. For example, the Center for
Creative Leadership (CCL), with offices in
Asia, North America, and Asia, has a long
and successful history in the leadership
coaching training business. INSEAD’s
Global Leadership Center, located in
Europe and Asia, is also very active in the
leadership coaching domain. Presently,
leadership coaching modules are found in
most of INSEAD’s executive programs. In
particular, follow-up of senior executive
groups who attended an INSEAD
leadership group coaching seminar has
shown that the process proved to be
extremely valuable in creating high-
performance teams. INSEAD also offers an
intensive ‘Coaching and Consulting for
Change‘ program designed for consultants,
HR professionals, and senior executives.
The program has a strong short-term
dynamic psychotherapy orientation to give
participants an in-depth understanding of
psychological processes when coaching,
preparing them to deal with complex
human situations in organizations.
To summarize, in selecting a leadership
coach for an organizational group
intervention, it is important to ensure that
the individual has completed a highly
selective program like one of those
described above. Furthermore, it is strongly
recommended that the person has some
kind of clinical perspective toward
coaching to be able to identify possible
danger signals in the bipersonal and
group domain.
individual, can be extremely effective both for ex-
ecutives and for their organization. Unfortunately,
the often impressive results obtained through this
kind of intervention have attracted the attention of
many unqualified consultants who take advantage
of the leadership coaching trend to hang out their
2005 71Kets de Vries
own shingle. As in the early days of psychother-
apy, leadership or executive coaching can pres-
ently be offered by anyone. Effective and construc-
tive leadership coaching, however, is built on a
solid base of psychological understanding and
practice. Particularly in the case of group interven-
tions, it is essential that the leadership coach has
had a modicum of clinical training; otherwise he or
she will not be able to decipher dysfunctional
group dynamics and individual pathology.
Most traditional intervention techniques focus
primarily on the rational side of human behavior,
neglecting the non-rational patterns that are part
and parcel of the human condition.
17
Many incom-
prehensible activities in organizations (“incompre-
hensible” from a rational point of view, that is) are
in fact indicators of what is really going on in the
intrapsychic and interpersonal world of the key
players, below the surface of their day-to-day rou-
tines. This underlying mental activity needs to be
understood in terms of how it resurfaces as fanta-
sies, conflicts, defensive behaviors, and anxieties.
Thus, to be effective in leadership group coaching,
one must accept the notion that there is more to
behavior in organizations than meets the eye, a
realization that can be anathema to far too many
traditional organizational development practitio-
ners. People who deny the reality of unconscious
phenomena—who refuse to take them into consid-
eration—increase the gap between organizational
rhetoric and reality. Only those leadership
coaches who have had some training in psycho-
logical techniques and methods, in combination
with intensive experience of life in organizations,
are equipped to be most effective in this domain.
Those “coaches” who are lacking training and
experience in these two fundamental areas are
likely to do more harm than good. It is often hard to
predict how a coaching arrangement will evolve.
What starts as a simple attempt to bring about
desired changes in specific cognitive skills may
turn into something far more complicated. Too of-
ten, issues that executives present require more
than simple, surface interventions. Thus leader-
ship coaches are not trainers. By definition, a sim-
ple training perspective is far removed from any
form of reflection and introspection. Most trainers
don’t have the expertise to recognize the often
deeply rooted nature of specific problems. To illus-
trate, a leadership coach who has not been ex-
posed to the basics of dynamic psychotherapy
would most likely not recognize the presence of a
psychological problem underlying a complaint
about leadership style. Furthermore, a mere
trainer would probably not recognize transferen-
tial issues (see sidebar), a critical dimension of the
bipersonal field (and a natural occurrence in any
meaningful interpersonal relationship).
18
Because
the leadership coaching process often awakens
deep-seated psychological problems of a charac-
terological nature, raising issues that need much
more than a simple coaching intervention, leader-
ship coaches who do not have solid psychological
training are woefully unequipped. They may ig-
nore the problem, assuming that it has nothing to
do with the workplace. Personality problems don’t
simply go away, however. A leadership coach’s
inability to recognize such problems, or the ten-
dency to downplay them, can have detrimental
results for individual and organization. Along with
failing to get the best out of an individual or exec-
utive team—in the process harming the company
and even potentially destroying careers—poorly
trained leadership coaches may fail to recognize
mental disorders, an omission that can be even
more devastating for all concerned.
A clinical orientation to leadership analysis and
intervention— used in conjunction with more tradi-
tional organizational development methods—is
therefore essential in the organizational context.
The clinical orientation is solidly grounded in con-
cepts of psychoanalytic psychology (specifically,
object relations theory), short-term dynamic psy-
chotherapy, cognitive theory, human development,
and family systems theory. It can be extremely
powerful in deciphering knotty leadership and or-
ganizational issues. In the case of many incompre-
hensible organizational situations, a clinical ori-
entation to leadership coaching can go a long way
toward bringing clarity and providing solutions.
Short-Term Psychotherapy versus Leadership
Coaching
My emphasis on the importance of familiarity with
the clinical orientation brings up an important
question: Are psychotherapists and leadership
coaches interchangeable in the organizational
context? A few observations about the specific
skills of the two may help to clarify their differ-
ences. As suggested, the most effective leader-
ship coaches draw heavily on psychotherapeutic
frameworks and skills. After all, both leadership
coaching and psychotherapy deal with behavior,
emotion, and cognition. Depending on the psycho-
logical background and orientation of the coach,
leadership coaching can take on many different
forms, many of which look very much like short-
term psychotherapy. In leadership coaching, as in
psychotherapy, there may be a discussion (de-
pending on how deep the leadership coach and
the client are willing to go) of blind spots, defen-
72 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
Transference refers to a situation in
which the client becomes confused as
about time and place, as revealed in the
way he or she interacts with the
leadership coach, perhaps thinking of
him as a father figure, for example.
(Counter transference results when the
leadership coach becomes similarly
confused.) The psychological imprints of
crucial early caregivers (particularly our
parents) cause transferential confusion in
time and place for all of us, in many
situations, making us act toward others
in the present as if we were acting
toward significant people from the past.
All of us act out transferential (or
‘historical‘) reactions on a daily basis,
regardless of what we do. For example,
though we are generally unaware of
experiencing confusion in time and
place, the mismatch between the reality
of our work situation and our
subconscious scenario— colleagues are
not parents or siblings, after all—may
lead to bewilderment, anxiety,
depression, anger, and even aggression.
Unfortunately, people who have little
clinical training may not recognize such
interaction patterns, and thus cannot
effectively change them. Moreover,
leadership coaches unfamiliar with the
power of transference may put the client
in a dependency situation or otherwise
unethically overstep the boundaries of
the coaching relationship.
sive reactions, distorted thinking, and irrational
thoughts. Not surprisingly, then, there are— or can
be—rather fuzzy boundaries between short-term
psychotherapy and leadership coaching. What-
ever the depth to which the leadership coach is
willing to go, it is important to be prepared for
emergencies in the coaching process (a point that
has been emphasized before), so that the coach
recognizes in time the danger signs that can derail
the coaching process.
19
Therefore, as mentioned
above, some psychotherapeutic (clinical) under-
standing should be a sine qua non for any effective
leadership coach.
Regarding the differences between the two, in
general leadership coaches have a broader per-
spective than do psychotherapists. Most psycho-
therapists have not supplemented their clinical ex-
perience with the training necessary to diagnose
problems of executive leadership, dysfunctional
team behavior, social defenses, corporate culture,
neurotic organizations, and organizational deci-
sion-making. Effective leadership coaches, on the
other hand, are expected to know not only the es-
sentials of psychotherapy, but also the require-
ments of organizational management. Given the
importance of the context in which the client oper-
ates, a deep understanding of the specific organi-
zational context, and of organizations in general,
are important factors in helping coached clients.
20
Because the organizational context is so important,
leadership coaches take a holistic, not a reduction-
ist, approach to framing problems. They must take
a systemic, not a piecemeal approach. While in
most forms of therapy information is principally
taken from the client, leadership coaches gather
information not only from the client but also from
other people who have dealings with the client.
Furthermore, psychotherapy—particularly its
more psychodynamic orientations—tends to be
past, present, and future oriented, while coaching
has a more present and future orientation.
21
(Psy-
chodynamically informed therapies emphasize the
importance of early development, unconscious as-
pects of behavior, the therapeutic relationship be-
tween therapist and client, defensive reactions,
and the presence of repetitive behavior.) As a re-
sult, in leadership coaching we find a more active
goal-and-action orientation, while in psychother-
apy the interaction is more passive and reflective.
Finally, in leadership coaching the focus is on per-
sonal growth and skill development, while in ther-
apy the question of symptom reduction and char-
acter problems is the primary area of interest.
In the case of psychotherapy, help to the client
stands central, and there is no question about who
the client is. In the case of leadership coaching, on
the other hand, the identity of the client is not as
self-evident. When successful, leadership coach-
ing helps both client and organization. So is the
client the person the leadership coach works with,
or is it the executive in the human resources de-
partment who organized the coach’s intervention?
Is it the CEO? Or is it perhaps even an abstract
“ideal,” such as contributing to the good of the
organization? In the case of therapy, confidential-
ity is absolute. That rule doesn’t always apply to
leadership coaching, however. In many cases, con-
fidentiality is much less definite, given the poten-
tial confusion about who the leadership coach is
2005 73Kets de Vries
working for. In spite of this confusion, it is advis-
able for leadership coaches to be, like psychother-
apists, quite rigorous about client confidentiality.
The setting is much more flexible in leadership
coaching than in psychotherapy. While leadership
coaching can take place in many different environ-
ments—face-to-face meetings, e-mail, telephone
conversations, or group meetings—psychothera-
peutic boundaries in most instances restrict inter-
actions to the therapist’s office. The duration is
likewise defined in therapy, which usually takes
the form of regular 45- to 50-minute sessions. Lead-
ership coaching sessions, on the other hand, are
often as long as two or even more hours. Interper-
sonal boundaries differ as well: while therapists
generally avoid having social relationships with
their patients, not wanting to “contaminate” future
sessions, coaches may interact with a client at
various company events outside of coaching ses-
sions. These occasions give leadership coaches a
great opportunity to observe the client from an-
other perspective. (For an overview of the differ-
ences between leadership coaching and psycho-
therapy see Figure 4.)
The Vicissitudes of Leadership Coaching
To temper all the hype about leadership coaching
these days, I would like to end this discussion by
presenting a number of concerns. Predictably, (as
indicated earlier) my first concern is the proper
training of leadership coaches. Companies look-
ing to hire a leadership coach need to be selective,
assessing carefully the training and experience
all the candidates possess. If a leadership coach
doesn’t truly appreciate the problems of the client
or the business, this can prove to be extremely
costly for individual and organization alike. Self-
styled leadership “coaches” may have good inten-
tions, but real leadership coaching is built on a
solid base of psychological understanding and
practice. Effective leadership coaches are attuned
to the unconscious life of organizations. They real-
ize that there is more to human behavior that
meets the eye.
A related concern—and a troubling one, given
human nature—is that leadership coaches don’t
always know their limits. Leadership coaches
need to realistically appraise their expertise and
acknowledge which kinds of clients they can work
with and which they can’t. “Hungry” (in a financial
sense) leadership coaches are the worst coaches.
Wise leadership coaches know what to take on and
what to refuse, and they follow the credo, “Do what
is best for the client.” Any leadership coach, even
one with a great deal of experience, would do well
to have regular supervision and/or an independent
colleague to discuss clients with, so that an expe-
rienced “other” can give his or her opinion on dif-
ficult interventions.
Another concern I have—this one multi-
pronged—relates to the ethical code of conduct for
leadership coaches. First, as noted earlier, it isn’t
always clear whether the client is the person being
coached or someone else in the organization—per-
haps someone higher up the management ladder
FIGURE 4
Therapy versus Leadership Coaching
74 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
or someone in the human resources department.
The hazy, potentially dual role that many leader-
ship coaches play has the potential to create seri-
ous problems. The person being coached may fear
that sensitive information will go back to top man-
agement—a realistic fear, since that’s often what
happens. Leadership coaches need to be clear up
front, with both the person coached and anyone
else they have dealings with, about how the infor-
mation they receive during sessions will be used.
The issue of confidentiality extends beyond pri-
vate personal data to sensitive organizational in-
formation regarding issues such as possible acqui-
sitions or mergers, proprietary information about
share price, and illegal activities. Organizations
that use external leadership coaches should set
confidentiality guidelines up front to ensure the
client’s (and organization’s) privacy. Using that
written agreement about how information will be
shared, the leadership coach can then balance the
need for privacy with a focus on improved corpo-
rate results.
Another troubling ethical issue is the question of
consent. Sometimes clients participate in leader-
ship coaching, not because they believe in its
value, but because senior people in the organiza-
tion have recommended it for career advancement.
Declining such a “gift” (a word meaning poison in
the Dutch and German language) isn’t an option
for anyone who wants to be promoted within the
organization. But talk about questionable motiva-
tion! It’s like the convict who enters therapy be-
cause a judge mandated it as one of the conditions
of a reduced sentence. I have learned from hard
experience that such scenarios do not augur well.
Leadership coaches who find themselves working
with clients who are under duress must exercise
great vigilance in dealing quickly with resis-
tances.
There are ethical issues around the question of
money as well. If the organization finances lead-
ership coaching, it should provide clear guidelines
about the ways leadership coaches are going to be
used, and for how long. Because clients, with suc-
cessful leadership coaching, begin to grow and
develop personally, they often want to extend the
work beyond what was originally planned for.
They may, for example, want what was intended to
be a performance-improvement intervention to
blossom into something of a very different nature.
As with the work of the sorcerer’s apprentice, the
process can easily run out of control, becoming
very expensive. Of course, it is another matter al-
together if the leadership coaching is financed pri-
vately by the client.
My final concern (and this has been the main
topic of this article) has to do with the focus of
leadership coaching. I would like once more to
make a plea for leadership coaching in groups as
the preferred tool for behavior change. Although
one-on-one coaching currently has the center stage
in the coaching field, my experience has shown
that leadership coaching in a group setting has the
highest payoff: high-performance organizations;
results-oriented and accountable people; boun-
daryless organizations; and true knowledge man-
agement.
We have always known that the pressure that
groups can exert in creating behavior change can
be formidable. Zen masters have always been well
aware of the efficacy of these pressures, as the
following story illustrates: When a famous Zen
master held his regular weeks of meditation, pu-
pils from all over Japan came to attend. During one
of these gatherings, one of the pupils was caught
stealing. The matter was reported to the Zen mas-
ter with the request that the pupil be expelled. The
Zen master ignored the request. Soon after, the
pupil was caught in a similar act, and again the
master disregarded the matter. This lack of action
angered the other pupils so much that they drew
up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief. If
the master wouldn’t agree, they threatened, they
would all leave the temple.
When the Zen master had read the petition, he
called everyone before him. “You’re right, pupils,”
he told them. “You know what is right and what is
not right. You may go somewhere else to study if
you wish, but this poor brother of ours doesn’t even
know right from wrong. Who will teach him if we
don’t? How can we change his dysfunctional be-
havior? I’m going to keep him here even if all the
rest of you leave.”
The Zen master’s expectations had been framed
in a positive way, and the values of the other
students had been praised. Surrounded by a group
on the watch for further infractions, the pupil found
that his desire to steal had vanished. It is easy to
imagine that this gentle lesson was of lasting ben-
efit to all concerned. It is a good example of the
outcome all leadership coaches should strive for.
Endnotes
1
For a discussion of the “Everest feeling” or “flow,” see
Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal
experience. New York: Harper and Row.
2
For a review of this 360-degree feedback instrument see
Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2004. The global executive leadership
inventory: Facilitator’s guide. San Francisco: Pfeiffer; Kets de
Vries, M. F. R. 2004. The global executive leadership inventory:
Participant’s workbook. San Francisco, Pfeiffer; Kets de Vries,
M. F. R., Vrignaud, P., &. Florent-Treacy, E. 2004. The global
2005 75Kets de Vries
leadership life inventory: Development and psychometric prop-
erties of a 360-degree feedback instrument,” The International
Journal of Human Resource Management, 15 (3): 475– 492.
3
Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2003. The personality audit. INSEAD,
Fontainebleau, France.
4
Koss, M. P., & Shiang, J. 1993. Research on brief psychother-
apy. Handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change. A. E.
Bergin and S. L. Garfield. (Eds.) New York: Wiley.
5
Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2004. Organizations on the couch: A
clinical perspective on organizational dynamics. European
Management Journal, 22 (2): 183–200.
6
See Winnicott, D. W. 1951. Transitional objects and transi-
tional phenomena. In Collected papers: Through paediatrics to
psycho-analysis. London: Tavistock Publications.
7
See for example Toegel, G., & Conger, J. (2003). 360-degree
assessment: Time for reinvention. Academy of Management
Learning & Education 2 (3): 279 –296
8
Gardner, H. 1999. Intelligence reframed. New York: Basic
Books. See also Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. 1990. Emotional intelli-
gence, Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9: 185–211; Go-
leman, D. 1998. Working with emotional intelligence. New York:
Bantam Books.
9
Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2000. Struggling with the demon:
Perspectives in individual and organizational irrationality.
Madison, CN: Psychosocial Press.
10
Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2001. The leadership mystique. Lon-
don: Financial Times/Prentice Hall.
11
For a description of high performance teams see Kets de
Vries, M. F. R. 1999. High performance teams: Lessons from the
pygmies. Organizational Dynamics 27 (3): 66 –77. See also Na-
dler, D. A., & Spencer, J. L. 1998. Executive teams. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass; Levi, D. 2001. Group dynamics for teams. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage; Scott Rutan, J., & Stone, W. N. (1993). Psychody-
namic group psychotherapy. New York: The Guilford Press.
12
See for example, Malan, D., & Osimo, F. 1992. Psychody-
namics, training, and outcome in brief psychotherapy. Oxford:
Butterworth Heinemann and McCullough; Vaillant, L. 1997.
Changing character. New York: Basic Books.
13
For informative literature on coaching see the writings of
Kilburg, R. R. (2000) Executive coaching. Washington, DC: Amer-
ican Psychological Association, Goldschmith, M., Freas, A., &
Lyons, L. 2000. Coaching for leadership. New York: John Wiley &
Sons; Hargrove, R. 1995. Masterful coaching. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass; Peltier, B. 2001. The psychology of executive coach-
ing. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
14
For a discussion on the power of narration see Mc Adams,
D. P. 1993. Stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of
the self. New York: William Morrow and Company; Atkinson, R.
1998. The life story interview. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
15
For some insights into trust building see Solomon, R. C., &
Flores, F. 2003. Building trust: In business, politics, relationships,
and life. New York: Oxford University Press.
16
For a good overview of studies on knowledge management
see Morey, D. (Ed.). 2002. Knowledge management: Classic and
contemporary works. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Von Krogh, G.,
Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I. 2000. Enabling knowledge creation. New
York: Oxford University Press.
17
In differentiating the more clinical orientation to organiza-
tional intervention from that of more traditional OD approaches
see Hirschhorn, L. 1988. The workplace within: Psychodynamics
of organizational life. Boston: MIT Press; Levinson, H. 2002. Or-
ganizational assessment. Washington, DC: American Psycho-
logical Association; Kets de Vries, M. F. R., & Balazs, K. 2005.
Organizations as optical illusions: A clinical perspective to
organizational consultation. Organizational Dynamics 34 (1)
forthcoming.
18
See Freud, S. 1905. Fragment of an analysis of a case of
hysteria. The standard edition of the complete psychological
works of Sigmund Freud. J. Strachey. (Ed.) London: The Hogarth
Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 7; Etchegoyen,
R. H. 1991. The fundamentals of psychoanalytic technique. Lon-
don: Karnac Books.
19
Berglas, S. 2002. The very real dangers of executive coach-
ing. Harvard Business Review 80 (6): 86 –92.
20
Levinson, H. 2002. Organizational assessment. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association; Zaleznik, A. (1989).
The managerial mystique. New York: Harper and Row; Kets de
Vries, M. F. R. and Miller, D. (1984). The neurotic organization.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
21
See for example Rawson, P. 2002. Short-term psychody-
namic psychotherapy: An analysis of the key principals. London:
Karnac; Mander, G. (2001). A psychodynamic approach to brief
therapy. London: Sage Publications.
Manfred Kets de Vries is the Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Clinical
Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD in France and
Singapore. He is the director of INSEAD’s Global Leadership
Center. Apart from being a management professor, he is also a
practicing psychoanalyst and a consultant on organizational
design/transformation and strategic human resource manage-
ment. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 20 books and has
published over 200 scientific papers. His books and articles
have been translated into eighteen languages. Contact: man-
fred.kets-de-vries@insead.edu
76 FebruaryAcademy of Management Executive
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