Case Study: Coaching Stressed Executives

Posted by Jan Lawrence


The HSE stress management standards identify Support as one of the 6 key conditions influencing health, well being and organisational performance.

The standard requires that:-

  • Employees should receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors; and that
  • Systems are in place locally to respond to any individual concerns.

For stressed senior executives, this support can be hard to find. As the leaders of the organisation, they can feel that they should be providing rather than receiving support. And since they tend to have fewer immediate colleagues and superiors to turn to, life at the top can be lonely and isolated.

Executive Coaching is a way of responding to this problem. The following In Equilibrium case studies illustrate how a non-judgemental outsider can help the executive to find his or her own solution.

A Career Decision:- Finance Director John’s career was at a critical stage. A capable individual, the Company wanted John to move up to group level and allow a promising team member to fill the gap. However, John was avoiding making a decision because he was very worried about the impact of a move on his family; in particular his wife who was prone to anxiety and bouts of severe depression.

Coaching enabled him to talk confidentially about the situation at home, his values and aspirations. It enabled him to develop criteria for accepting a new role, and to identify alternative ways in which he could meet his own need for a challenging role, whilst continuing to support his wife and family.

A Stressed Team:- Operations Director Suzanna’s 360 degree appraisal had resulted in a very disappointing set of scores. Working in a complex, fast changing environment, she had been working long hours, close to burn out, and was inclined to blame her co-directors when things went wrong.

Coaching helped Suzanna to see herself as others were seeing her, and to understand how she was adding to the stress levels of her team. The 360 feedback was used to complete a SWOT analysis from which Suzanna was able to use her strengths and make the most of opportunities to create some quick wins with her team, while in the longer term she undertook an in depth management development programme.

A ‘win-win’ In each of these cases, it had been possible for the executive to work through a stressful situation with the coach acting as facilitator, with personal growth outcomes that brought significant benefits to the organisation as well as the executives.