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Coaching Quicksand: Avoiding Hidden Dangers that Can Trap the Best of Us

D Surrenda, L Thompson The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations 2003

Chuck, a bright, caring, “can do” executive reported to the COO of a billion dollar high tech company. New to his job, Chuck wanted to rebuild the morale in his organization as well as produce breakthrough results in his first year. As this was also his first position at the corporate officer level, he accepted a colleague’s recommendation, and engaged an experienced and empathetic executive coach to assist him with his professional development. Chuck immediately established rapport with his coach and they began to meet weekly, in two hour sessions. Chuck began involving his coach in the day-to-day work of his organization, and included him in a two day planning offsite at a resort. After defining the staff’s initiatives for the coming fiscal year, Chuck asked his coach to follow up and ensure all staff members were completing their work. The coach met weekly with each staff member encouraging, urging and cajoling them to get their projects done. Surprisingly, these normally results-oriented managers dragged their heels and rumors spread that they resented the coach’s “interference.” They wanted to work closer with Chuck who was not only their boss but also a very supportive individual. Chuck’s boss was growing dissatisfied with him due to deliverables being missed. He didn’t think Chuck was handling key details of the business adequately. Aware that the COO had concerns, the coach, on his own initiative, went to the COO to have a conversation regarding his concerns with Chuck. Chuck was embarrassed that his coach had gone to his boss without telling him and was upset at what occurred at the meeting. The coach had chastised the COO for not being clearer with Chuck about his concerns. The COO believed he had been quite clear with Chuck and was angry that the coach had implied otherwise. He was also frustrated that Chuck had spent an extraordinary amount of money in just six months on his coaching activities, but had not focused on the issues his boss thought were essential to his success. Chuck was increasingly aware he was alienating key stakeholders by his failure to create proper roles and boundaries for his coach. Neither his staff nor his boss was happy with the way Chuck was utilizing his executive coach. The coach’s contract was terminated.

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