The Future for Executive Coaching: Evolving Professional Practice

Wellbeing in executive coaching – do you address the whole person?

A paper for the 3rd APECS Annual Symposium on Wednesday June 18th 2014 written by:

  • Liz Pick
  • Emma Donaldson-Fielder

In consultation with:

  • Fiona Adamson
  • Colette Gannon
  • Sarah Perrott


Working long hours, under high pressure while dealing with constant change is the norm for many coaching clients, especially during the economic turbulence of recent years. And now, as the economy is recovering, there’s an increasing awareness of the costs to organisations and their people in terms of wellbeing.

Certainly, the link between people’s wellbeing and their work performance is well established. But which aspects of wellbeing, if any, are suitable to be addressed by an executive coach. And who decides if, when and how that will happen?

Although focused on achieving work goals, at its best, executive coaching helps people succeed in all aspects of their lives and is confidential for a good reason: it provides a safe place for clients to talk about anything that affects their ability to work, including perceived weaknesses, vulnerabilities, challenges.

Sometimes these factors will be related to wellbeing – the wellbeing of the client, their team, their boss, their family and friends. In some cases, clients may want to hide these issues from their boss, or others, for fear of negative consequences. In others, wellbeing is an explicit part of the reason for seeking executive coaching.

Executive coaching can be an ideal intervention to promote positive, and address negative wellbeing. In many ways, coaches are uniquely placed to work on wellbeing issues, because they can offer confidentiality and non-judgemental development that allows the client to manage their own wellbeing, or wellbeing issues for others, more effectively without the consequences of disclosure.

Some executive coaches believe that a person’s wellbeing is such an integral part of their ability to perform in their role that they address it, to some degree, in their work with all clients. Others choose to work with their clients without engaging with wellbeing at all, and still make good progress. And some maintain that wellbeing is beyond the competence and remit of coaches, should be addressed by qualified professionals and excluded from coaching conversations.

The symposium provides us with an opportunity to think about the variety of approaches and attitudes to wellbeing adopted by clients, coaches, purchasers, educators and supervisors and examine the importance of considering the ‘whole person’ in our executive coaching work.

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