The call you’ve been waiting for finally comes. The president and CEO of James Nanochic Widget Makers, Inc. is on the line. Peter James’ company has cornered the market on the cute microchip—advancing an interest in science among the young while creating trendy, chic communication devices for the beautiful. Posed to take his company global within the next six months, James now faces several crises of conscience: outsourcing, keeping his company green within an international market, interfacing well with counterparts and new colleagues in Russia, China, India, Eastern and Western Europe. Waking up the fifth night in a row in his 6,000 square foot mansion alone and in a cold sweat, Nanochic’s founder picks up the phone, reaches for your card, looks at a moment, and dials.

It’s 12 a.m. in Bangkok and you’ve just closed a deal for publication of your fifth novel. You’re awake to take James’ call and glad to be sober.

Peter James is your typical solitary high achiever: impossible standards, not the most trusting, soft and caring on the inside but with a hard shield of exacting perfectionism that has created minor bursts of fear, irritation and deeply buried annoyance on his team. You listen, as a good executive coach does, and find that James’ concerns aren’t solely expansion-oriented. He’s watched that resentment and irritation build, and so far has managed it with the skill of a preschooler on a teeter-totter. He knows the expansion of the company is going to light fires as well as heighten sensitivities, and he doesn’t want his basic good nature, firm dream for Nanochic, and solid corporate structure to collapse as a result of “personalities.” Refusing to see himself as weak or in need of therapy, he asks you to clarify what an executive coach is and what an executive coach does.

This very scenario may be the one of which you dream. The big call comes and you don’t want to stumble through the client’s first questions. As a coach relatively new to the field or preparing to open your own doors, be keenly aware of the terminology and the differing responsibilities within the broad fields of personal, business or executive coaching. Executive coaches are not therapists, and they need to be able to explain the distinction to clients. In short, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, or any type of mental health professional deals with pathology. If you seek a therapist, you sense there is something wrong; if you seek a coach, nine times out of ten you simply want to improve in some area. The dysfunctional seek therapy; those who seek optimal functioning look for a coach.

Not that therapeutic skills are not called for as an executive coach; the successful, adept coach, warns Don McCrae in his article “A Better Person Makes A Better Exec,” needs all of the following skills sets:
A therapist’s tools for changing behavior, the evaluation tools of a human-resources professional, the organizational skills and project management acumen of a consultant, a professor’s knowledge of adult learning and development principles, and a sports psychologist’s knowledge of the multiple connections between mind and body. (McCrae 2)
Why so many necessary yet varied skill sets? Top-level executives like Peter James, our hypothetical client, are complex people. Diverse, yes, but sharing several common qualities of the high achiever.

Many CEOs, CFOs, and company presidents possess the inner steel, drive, passion and vision as well as commitment to propel themselves rapidly to the top, but their ability to create and maintain productive, prolific teams and relationships frequently suffers. A well-trained and well-prepared executive coach knows that she must use the entire list of skills McCrae delineates in his article while amassing deep knowledge of her client’s company’s corporate “culture, philosophy, and measures of success” (McCrae 2). Until she can convince Mr. James that globalization of his company is possible without destroying himself or all that he has managed to create, 2 a.m. will remain sweaty and cold in the epicenter of his 6,000 square foot home.

You speak with James at length—despite the hour; successful executive coaches understand the value of extra compassion and targeted listening on an intake call. James is familiar with Kevin Conroy, director of Executive Coaching and Organisational Development at DBM Ireland, a leading global provider of innovative leadership development and organizational change solutions. He read Conroy’s rather derisive review of the origins of executive coaching, and wants to know, specifically, how your services are different from those offered by gurus of the past.

A genesis spanning the late seventies and reaching as far as the turn of the millennium, Conroy finds fault with the New Age/self-help orientation of the gurus characterizing the first and aspects of the second phase of the field’s development. Guru-centered coaching could not last and eventually met its own demise, and the focus on the individual self in New Ageist/self-help program coaching Conroy finds limited and limiting. The promise of the third wave rests, Conroy asserts, within the coaching clients’ insistence on measurable change, accountability verifiable in numbers as well as expertise in psychological techniques and group dynamics that, combined, will provide the executive with approaches to change sensitive to the corporate culture, philosophy, and expectations for heightened performance.

James, however, expresses concern about a coaching relationship focused solely on business outcomes and performance when it is his people, his team members, and their ability to function as a solid, productive unit that worries him. He suspects a bit of that “soul” or “spirit” sensitivity needs to remain a part of any coaching relationship he enters to ensure a watchful eye is kept on the tendency of groups within organizations to develop “the unspoken conflict, uneven participation in meetings, fiefdoms, peers not accountable to each other, dormant ‘undiscussables,’ misunderstandings in fast-moving situations—clear signs of a management team or organization in trouble” (Conroy 3).

“On the surface I am Adlerian, at bottom I am spiritual,” you respond when your client asks for your personal philosophy of executive coaching, the rules by which you play the game. “I simply want you to sleep through the night—comfortably.”

You hear his involuntary sigh of relief, and know you’ve hit the right tack.

“My clients, deep down, already know the answers to the problems ailing their businesses or what may be threatening the corporate structure down the line. You don’t build, can’t build, a high-profile, successful business without sound, reliable instincts. My clients are winners and they know they are winners, but like all creative individuals, once they’ve built their beautiful baby the attacks begin to come from all directions, initiated many times from Mama or Papa Creator’s own mind.

“You, Mr. James, already know what pressure points and stressors exist within your management teams, units and divisions; you know who’s primed to blow and why. It is simply that you’ve never had to deal with your teams’ psychological needs all at once and integratively, and you’re a bit worried about how to keep this particular new set of balls in the air.

“You know your team and you can guess what they need. You just want consistent confirmation until you are confident in this new area of management technique.”

“And this new technique is?”

“For you, close observation and private reward. You are the man of the quiet appraisal and the silent gesture, Mr. James, and your team knows this. You’ve been so preoccupied with the multiple responsibilities of the actual globalization process that your team hasn’t felt your presence, not even your silent smile, which often was enough to keep them going. They’ve lost their sense of you, of your presence, of, possibly, your approval as this massive growth approaches, so they are feeling rudderless in dangerous waters, unaware that the captain himself is worried about them. If they knew, even, about your concern that they might fall apart, it would bring relief. At least they’d have a sense of you again and know that you had not withdrawn in anger or disapproval.”

“So what do we do?”

“We work with your strengths, we reconnect with your teams, proactively reassure them, select who is always and repeatedly contacted about what and told what questions to ask of you when so this disconnection does not recur. You’re going to need to draw certain members of your team closer to you, so that they communicate with you and communicate back for you. You’ve got to keep lines of communication open and respectful. Certain folk will have to have your home number and your private cell. And we’ve got to get you a lady friend for that private cell—not someone from your team.”


“Part of the problem with waking up at two a.m. is that you’re waking up alone, is it not?”

“My personal life is not part of my company’s globalization process.”

“But your loneliness is. I said spiritual and Adlerian, Mr. James, in terms of my personal coaching philosophy. Adler was the first, for lack of a better term, humanistic psychologist. He believed that what I call the soul, the spirit, and what he called the psyche aims always for wholeness, to be a completely rounded organic unit. A healthy psyche functions well in the family and in the social sphere; dysfunction in either realm becomes clear through analysis of one’s dreams, thoughts, nightmares, neuroses. The malady shows up there and within relationships in your social networks."

“We aren’t going to talk about my mother, are we?” James asked, “I am NOT interested in therapy.” She noticed the hint of dread in his voice.

“No, not at all,” she replied, sure to laugh lightly, not at him but encouraging his relief, an invitation to laugh with her. “Adler believed in assisting others in solving (and preventing) problems of daily living …. Like Adlerian therapists—which I am not for you—coaches with my philosophy ‘also have the mission of improving the lives of individuals and helping them develop more meaningful relationships with their intimate partners, their community, their work, themselves and to have a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives’ (Davison & Gasiorowski 188). You’ll notice,” she said, careful to communicate the warm smile he could not see with her tone, “nowhere do I mention pathology, psychopathology, or unhealthy mommy attachments.”

She let his barely audible sigh of relief pass without comment.

“I am interested in balance, that all aspects of your life weigh easily and evenly and that certain issues stop disturbing your sleep and propelling you into loneliness.”

“So then you are a therapist of sorts.”

“No, I give therapists their due, but I do not begin with my clients in the atmosphere or with the understanding that there is something wrong with them; my clients are high achievers all, successful people to a one. They simply realize there is an area in their work or personal lives in which they wish to increase outcome, for the good of their companies or for their own personal fulfillment. We won’t be delving into your past; we will focus on training you in the analysis of your teams’ moods, states, needs and optimal functioning so that you and the team perform at the highest levels before, during, and after this massive expansion. You already have a deep understanding of them, but you need to discuss your perceptions with someone and determine how best to act and interact with them so everyone sleeps peacefully at night. And so that you begin to comfortably delegate, take more than a night off per month, and find a Miss for your personal cell.”

He groaned. “Oh God, no dating services, please!”

“Absolutely not.” She was unafraid to be firm. “We attack the business situation first and foremost; that will lead you to relaxing in other areas.”

She could hear the wheels turning as he collected his thoughts and made a decision. There was a quiet scraping which could only be a window blind delicately moved aside then returned to its former position.

“Another night gone,” he muttered under his breath. Not exactly hopeless, not completely tired.

“Get up; take a warm, hot shower; fix a cup of tea; put on your most comfortable robe. Rest, read the paper, go back to bed. Let your mind take a vacation day, an imagination, visualization day. Try to figure out the best way to do completely nothing til midnight tonight.”

He laughed, the first genuine sound of delight he’d made during the call. “Why do I suddenly feel lighter?”

“Because someone is listening to your stress and promising to help you address it. You’re no longer alone with your biggest problem. Welcome to the world of executive coaching.”

He hung up the phone, clicked his teeth, thought about her tracing of the origins of coaching from Positive Psychology and Adler, and nodded his head in wonder and no small amount of anticipation as he stepped into what became a long, hot, cleansing shower.


Conroy, Kevin. “Evolution of Coaching.” Business & Finance Magazine. February 9, 2006.

Contemporary Authors. “Alfred (F.) Adler.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale. 2003.

Davison, Michael and Frank Gasiorowski. “The Trend of Coaching: Adler, the Literature, and Marketplace Would Agree.” The Journal of Individual Psychology. Volume 62: No. 2, Summer 2006.

MacRae, Don. “A Better Person Makes a Better Executive.” Business Week Online. February 27, 2002; pN.PAG, 00p.

Author's Bio: 


Niama Leslie Williams (, a June 2006 Leeway Foundation Art and Social Change Grant recipient, and a 2006 (July) participant in a Sable Literary Magazine/Arvon Foundation residential course in Shropshire, UK, possesses a doctorate in African American literature from Temple University, a bachelor’s in comparative literature from Occidental College, and a master’s in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Dr. Williams’ master’s thesis at USC earned her an honorable mention in the University’s 1991 Phi Kappa Phi competition. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, she currently resides in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Williams has participated in several writers’ conferences, including the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (2000), Hurston/Wright Writers Week (1996), and Flight of the Mind (1993). Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine; Dark Eros: Black Erotic Writings; Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of African American Poetry; Catch the Fire: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry; Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the 21st Century; Mischief, Caprice, and Other Poetic Strategies (Red Hen Press); A Deeper Shade of Sex: The Best in Black Erotica, and Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees. Check the Rhyme was nominated for an NAACP Image Award (2007).

Her prose publications include essays and short stories in MindFire Renewed, P.A.W. (Philadelphia Artists Writers) Prints, Midnight Mind Magazine, Amateur Computerist, Tattoo Highway #6, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, and Sojourner: The Women’s Forum. She has 7 titles available for sale on (, an online print-on-demand publisher based in the U.K.

Dr. Williams hosts “Poetry & Prose & Anything Goes with Dr. Ni” Friday afternoons from 2-3 p.m. EST on BlogTalkRadio ( The show originally aired from February to April of 2007 on Passionate Internet Voices Talk Radio, a station owned by Ms. Lillian Cauldwell of Ann Arbor, MI. Dr. Williams’ short story “The Embrace” was selected for the 2006-2007 Writing Aloud series at the InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, PA.

Of her purpose for writing Dr. Williams says: "I frequently do not err on the side of caution in my writing, but I believe in the purpose of it: to speak to the things others do not want to speak of, with the hopes of reaching that one woman, or her lover, or her friend, who refuses to deal with her pain, who hides from it, who doesn't think she'll survive it. That's the audience I hope to reach."