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Executive Coaching and Its Prototype Theory

In spite of the fact that executive coaching is the actively developed concept and practice, researchers and practitioners cannot agree on the theory that can be used to explain and support the main principles of this process. The lack of the special theory in the field of executive coaching makes researchers adapt the theories from other disciplines and knowledge areas (Haan, Duckworth, Birch, & Jones, 2013; Maltbia, Marsick, & Ghosh, 2014).

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Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to present the possible prototype theory of coaching the aim of which is to clarify the basic principles typical of the executive coaching process with the focus on the associated assumptions and premises. Although there is no one agreed theory of executive coaching, it is possible to propose the Theory of Internal Readiness that is based on the principles of developmental theories, psychoanalytic theories, and the experiential theory of learning to explain relationships between the coach and the client and the path of the client to achieving the professional and leadership goals.

Theories Important to Executive Coaching

The practice of executive coaching is based on the theoretical models and concepts that were developed within other disciplines. It is possible to determine developmental theories, psychoanalytic theories, and experiential learning theories as important to support the idea of executive coaching.

Developmental Theories

Such developmental theories as Vaillant’s Theory discuss the process of development in relation to adults and provide the theoretical explanation of changes in persons’ behaviors and visions. George Vaillant found that during different stages of their life, adults focus on different goals that can become their priorities. Thus, adolescents focus on developing their identity, and older persons focus on building relationships and searching intimacy (Steiner, Araujo, & Koopman, 2014, p. 470).

The next stage is focusing on the career development. Generativity is typical of the following stage when people become parents or achieve the leading positions in the society. The final stages and goals include finding the meaning and unity of the life (Steiner et al., 2014). From this perspective, the main assumptions and principles of the theory are that adults have various intentions, desires, and aims at different stages of their lives, and these factors influence their thoughts, choices, behaviors, and actions (Stober & Grant, 2006). This theory, as many other developmental theories, allows understanding the person’s intentions and goals with the focus on the aspect of the physical, psychological, and intellectual development.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Executive coaching as a process of building the collaborative relationships between coaches and clients is also based on the psychoanalytic theory. According to this theory, the core of the person’s current thoughts, visions, and actions is in their ego, and certain reactions and behaviors are the results of the past experiences. The psychoanalytic theory is based on the Freudian and Rogerian traditions, and the analysis of the person’s inner and deep feelings, emotions, and intentions often provides the key to the observed behaviors and changes (Stober & Grant, 2006).

Thus, the psychoanalytic theory assumes that the explanation of the adults’ behaviors is in the person’s childhood (Jones, Woods, & Hutchinson, 2014, p. 111). In addition, the theorists propose the use of the psychotherapy in order to help persons cope with their problems identified with the help of the psychoanalysis.

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Experiential Learning Theory

The theory of experiential learning states that persons can learn not only from gaining the theoretical knowledge and using the acquired skills but also from reflecting on their previous experiences. While making conclusions referring to the past experiences, interactions, and behaviors, adults can effectively learn because of analyzing the right and wrong actions and behaviors, as well as their consequences and outcomes (Baker, Robinson, & Kolb, 2012, p. 4). According to the theory of experiential learning, a person should not take the passive role in learning, and the reflection on actions allows persons to choose the right path for making the following steps.

Connections between the Theories and Executive Coaching

The practices of executive coaching need to be supported by the theoretical concepts and rules. It is important to note that the discussed theories are directly related to the field of the executive coaching, and the main connections can be easily identified for the purpose of this paper.

Vaillant’s Adult Developmental Theory

The connection of Vaillant’s Theory with the executive coaching is the provision of tools for coaches in order to understand what factors influence the person’s behavior at different stages of his or her development (Steiner et al., 2014). Thus, applying the developmental theory to executive coaching, a coach receives an opportunity to help the person achieve the goals with the focus on the approaches appropriate for the concrete period of the man’s development. According to Vaillant’s Theory, adults try to achieve intimacy, career successes, and integrity at different stages of their life. Therefore, a coach should pay attention to these facts while selecting the tools for working with the client.

Psychoanalytic Theory

The principles of the psychoanalytic theory are actively used in the coaching process because the analysis of the client’s inner emotions and motivations is important in order to assist him or her in learning new knowledge or developing skills (Stober & Grant, 2006). Moreover, the basic ideas of the psychoanalytic theory are also used in order to build the strong relationships between a coach and a client when they are based on the mutual understanding.

Experiential Learning Theory

The connections between the theory of experiential learning and executive coaching are based on the idea that adults learn differently while comparing the practices typical of children, adolescents, and adults. Therefore, in the executive coaching, it is reasonable to use the theories and practices that can guarantee the positive results for adults. In the executive coaching process, a coach receives an opportunity to refer to the adult’s previous experience and drawn conclusions in order to motivate the person to move further and learn new skills.

Prototype Theory of Coaching

An effective theory of executive coaching should explain all the dependencies and relationships that are observed during the coaching process. Executive coaching is a process of the personality’s development in terms of his or her personal and professional goals. This process is directed by a coach, but the outcomes depend on the client’s readiness to accept the personal changes and develop according to the set goals (Bartlett, Boylan, & Hale, 2014).

The basic relationships that are observed during the executive coaching process are the interaction between the coach and the client; the changes in the abilities, thoughts, behaviors, and actions of clients depending on the coaching process; and the achievements of organizational goals based on the learned knowledge and developed skills (Brook, Pedler, & Burgoyne, 2013). The newly formulated theory of executive coaching that aims at addressing these relationships and setting rules and principles to explain them is the Theory of Internal Readiness.

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According to the Theory of Internal Readiness, a person can learn and develop more effectively as a personality and a professional when he or she is internally ready to acquiring the new knowledge, learning, developing skills, and changing. In order to guarantee the effective outcomes of the executive coaching, a person should understand the goal for which efforts are made (Swart & Harcup, 2013).

The positive results can be expected when a person focuses on his or her strong features to achieve the set goals. If a person is internally ready to the coaching process, learning, and developing new skills, then it is possible to expect the obvious progress and changes in visions and behaviors. Internal motives, intentions, and visions of the client play the key role in determining the success of the executive coaching process. According to the theory, a client should be at the certain stage of its personal development when the desire for the professional growth is strong, and it indicates the internal readiness to it.

The other basic premise of the theory can be formulated the following way: if a person is ready to improve and he or she is focused on the personal and professional growth, then the interaction of the coach and the client will be more positive, collaborative, supportive, and based on the idea of the mutual understanding. Thus, according to the theory, seeing the readiness of the client for the growth and changes, the coach succeeds in building the collaborative relationships because the client is ready to accept such interactions (Wasylyshyn, Shorey, & Chaffin, 2012).

The Theory of Internal Readiness assumes that the clients’ behaviors can be explained with the focus on their internal motivation, deep intentions, goals, and experiences. The new visions, behaviors, and actions will form at the basis of the previously learned skills, but they should be re-thought as positive ones, and the person should be ready to analyze the previous experiences in the context of new goals.

While referring to the process of executive coaching based on the Theory of Internal Readiness, it is important to state that the first step is the building of collaborative relationships with the client in order to achieve the trust and respect. The second step is the assessment of the client’s internal readiness to coaching and associated changes. The person should be ready to take efforts orienting to the concrete goal, and the coach’s task is to assess the presence of such readiness (Stober & Grant, 2006).

The next stage is the intervention as the process of rethinking the person’s past experiences for the purpose of creating the basis for the further changes and actions. Following the theory, the intervention procedures should be oriented to helping clients use their motives and intentions for the further growth and development. The final steps include the evaluation of the results and conclusions regarding the client’s readiness to use the learned knowledge in practice.

The Effectiveness of the Theory

It is important to note that the effectiveness of the Theory of Internal Readiness is based on uniting the key principles typical of the other theories associated with executive coaching in one theory. Thus, this theory adopts the principles of developmental theories while referring to the period of developing careers and focusing on professional growth (Stober & Grant, 2006).

During the assessment stage, the coach has a task of evaluating the internal readiness of the client to develop and be trained with the focus on the concrete stage of the adult development process. In addition, the theory also adapts the principles of the psychoanalytic theories while accentuating the role of building the constructive relationship with a coach. It is important to clients to trust and respect their coaches, as well as feel their support, in order to analyze the inner feelings and origins of their behaviors to improve them (Grant, 2014; Haan et al., 2013). The experiential theories also provide the basis for the Theory of Internal Readiness because the path to learning, changes, and improvements is based on rethinking the previous experiences in order to transform them into the positive ones.

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The concepts and principles of the Theory of Internal Readiness are also grounded on the motivational theories because the coach manipulates the client’s internal motives to foster the learning and development. The principles of the change theories are also adapted to this theory in order to explain the readiness of the client to change and grow. However, the theory can be discussed as differing from the mentioned ones because it unites the features of the various theories that are appropriate for executive coaching, and this complex approach allows creating the theory that can be relevant to explain the main procedures, features, and principles of the executive coaching (Grant, 2014; Swart & Harcup, 2013).

There is no one accepted theory of executive coaching, and this complex theory is formulated to include all the best features of the existing theories and approaches to guide the practice of coaches. The Theory of Internal Readiness can explain the approaches and concepts that can be viewed as working in relation to the new generation of employees who are more focused on achieving the professional goals and developing their careers. Currently, more coaches use the individualized practices to work with independent clients, and the Theory of Internal Readiness can explain why the individual work with employees can be effective to develop their leadership potential based on their internal readiness, motivation, and intentions.

Legal and Ethical Issues

In order to be discussed as effective to be applied to practice, the Theory of Internal Readiness should also address the ethical and legal issues associated with the practice of executive coaching. From this point, the main legal and ethical issues in executive coaching are boundaries in the practice and specifics of the coach’s styles of working with the clients; the focus on confidentiality; informed consent; competency (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2013).

Coaches should focus on setting boundaries while collaborating with their clients in spite of the fact that the theory supports building relationships based on trust and respect. The theory assumes the development of only professional relationships between coaches and clients. The focus on confidentiality means that all the information known by the coach during the coaching process is confidential and cannot be disclosed. The theory based on the idea of internal readiness assumes the sharing of deep feelings, motives, and personal experiences with the coach, and this information should remain confidential (Grant, 2014; Haan et al., 2013).

In addition, the informed consent is important to be signed before starting the coaching procedures because a client should understand the boundaries of his or her involvement in the coaching process (Jones et al., 2014; Stober & Grant, 2006). The issue of competency is also addressed according to the theory because only high-class professionals with the experience and knowledge in counseling can work as effective executive coaches whose task is to help employees develop their professional potential.

Gaps in the Research on Executive Coaching

The field of executive coaching is discussed as developing, and there is no one agreed on theory that can explain the main aspects of the executive coaching. The research in the field cannot provide the discussion of one theory that is adopted by the majority of researchers and practitioners in the area of executive coaching, and the further work toward the formulation of the effective theory is required (Maltbia et al., 2014).

There is also the lack of empirical studies in order to support the proposed theories on coaching and principles used in the executive coaching practice (Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011). The recent researchers propose the detailed discussion of the principles of the counseling, therapies, and managerial coaching, and the executive coaching is viewed as the adoption of the principles characteristic of the mentioned practices for teaching and training employees in terms of their development and personal and professional growth. However, the detailed analysis of the principles of executive coaching in the corporate environment still lacks in the scholarly literature (Grant, 2014). The additional researches are necessary to support the assumptions connected with adopting different theories typical of various disciplines to the field of executive coaching.


In spite of the fact that the proposed Theory of Internal Readiness is based on the ideas and features of other theories that are adjusted to the field of executive coaching, the main difference is in the fact that this theory combines the principles referring to the purpose of the coaching in organizations as an approach and practice that differs from counseling or other types of training and coaching.

It is possible to state that the effectiveness of the theory is in its attempts to provide the explanation and theoretical grounds to all the basic stages of the executive coaching process with the focus on the analysis of the human nature and aspects of the adults’ learning and development in the context of their professional growth. The theory is also aimed at addressing the existing gap in the research regarding the theoretical premises of the executive coaching practices and approaches.


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