<<< Back Posted: April 2017

When Executive Coaching Gets Personal

By Guest Blogger, Jane Mobille, PCC, CPCC.



It started out typically enough. My client had just finished telling me about a new account he had won, including positive feedback he had received from his boss. Yet what followed wasn’t a smile, but rather a sigh. A big one.

“What was that for?” I asked.


I sighed. 

“Oh. I guess because I’m worried about making mistakes,” he replied.

This from my client who once told me that he enjoys a reputation for “making things happen”.

“And…?” I ask.

He is picking at his finger. “It is important to be seen as competent.” He looks away, but not before I see his glassy eyes.

I know, clear as day, that something else is going on in my client’s life. I am going to have to name what I see. “What is the emotion about?”

I wait. Many seconds. It feels so long. I try again.

“I have the impression that you aren’t feeling very confident.”

He turns his gaze back toward me.

“Yet, I am not sure what might be causing this,” I add.

This time I am ready to wait minutes, if necessary.

“I need you to help me figure out how to get a promotion,” he begins. “I don’t want to waste our coaching time…”

I wait.

“…on my partner, the mother of my child.”

“Are the two connected…being seen as competent, and your partner?” I ask.

“No, well, I mean, yes. Yes.”

As coaches, we know that work behavior can be impacted by what is going on in our personal lives. “It sounds to me, then, that it is important to spend some time on this.” And with that comment, he had the green light to continue.

My client told me a story we have all heard, or even lived ourselves. His relationship was dysfunctional and unhappy. After work his partner overwhelmed him with her needs. Her inadequate financial and domestic contribution left him under pressure. He had no time for himself. His partner found everything he did lacking. “It is not working out, but I love my child and am afraid I could lose this,” he concluded.

Alright – I know what you are thinking. A coach is not trained to be a relationship counselor! And you are correct! So what to do? First, I must acknowledge my client. “I see that you are someone who has been working hard to keep up professionally despite having difficulties at home.” I look to see how it landed. 

Now I name the danger. “You are somebody whose confidence and ability to move through ‘risk’ to get to ‘reward’ have propelled you forward in your career. It is not like you to worry about mistakes.”

He interjects, “She doesn’t stop telling me that everything I do is wrong. I don’t feel very confident as a partner, and yes, I guess I have carried this into work.” Other than suggesting that he and his partner see a relationship counselor, how can I help him?

My first issue is self-management. I found myself siding with my client, angry at his partner. Of course, you are right to suspect I might be biased! I don’t know her side of the story, and I have a fondness and respect for my client. Frankly it was hard to manage my feelings here, but I told him something from my heart.

“Tell her that she and your child are lucky to have a man as responsible as you in their lives.”

I needed an activity that would move my client forward and help me self-manage. I thought of the ‘What I need from you – What you need from me’ exercise I learned during my training at CTI. So I asked my client to write down three things he needs from his partner in order to regain his confidence at work; as well as three things he thinks his partner needs from him in order to regain confidence in him. I ended the session by requesting that he ask his partner to do the same exercise, and that they share their answers. And of course, that they consider seeing a relationship counselor.

After he left, I closed my eyes, and my thoughts led me to this clarity: Providing a safe place for expression, gentle curiosity, and a listening, non-judgmental ear is already way more than enough, when the personal crashes in on our executive coaching.

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