“We’re coaches – we don’t do emotions” Should Executive or Corporate Coaching avoid emotions? Fiona Reynolds explores.

The statement, made by a delegate at a workshop on applying Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques and knowledge to coaching, took me by surprise.

First of all let’s consider what coaching is and its role within the corporate or executive world.

Webster and Webster (2019) write: “The focus of coaching is usually task and performance. The role of a skills or performance coach is to give feedback on observed performance. Consequently, coaching usually happens at the workplace.”

From my experience in coaching, I disagree with the statement that coach has to observe the client’s performance. Downey (2014) highlights this type of interpretation is because many people’s understanding of coaching is taken from sports performance coaching and therefore creates the perception that coaching is a transfer of knowledge – creating the idea that coaching is about telling. Gorell (2019, via Twitter) further contradicts the view that coaching is a transfer of knowledge with this statement: “We’re not there to tell them what to think, we’re there to teach them how to think.”

She defines coaching as facilitating the learning and self-awareness of the coachee to unlock potential, with an emphasis on personal development.

But coaching can also be used to support career development – as evidenced by the explosion of courses, writing of books and establishment of coaching businesses focused on corporate and executive coaching.

The corporate coach has the corporate goals at heart and may work with individuals or teams within an organisation to support them in achieving the goals. Corporate coaches need to have an understanding of the operational dimensions of the business, although they will focus on the two elements of working with people and leadership. “Executive coaching” is often considered interchangeable with the term “leadership coaching” in that executive coaching is typically with the more senior members or leaders of the organisation.

So, let’s return to the statement made: “We’re coaches – we don’t do emotions”.

Who leads, directs, runs and works in organisations? The world of Terminator is not yet here and the robots haven’t taken over, so we’re looking at people. And people can be fairly complicated, with thoughts and feelings/emotions shaping our behaviours and being influenced by our own behaviour as well as the actions of others.

Just think about your own time in the office and what thoughts run through your head, how you feel as you prepare for the difficult meeting and how the behaviours of those around you can affect your day.

Thinking about one of my clients, I want to show why executive and corporate coaching should not ignore or avoid emotions.

Rebecca* is a newly appointed senior manager and she wanted coaching to help her develop her confidence (an emotion) and operate effectively, adding value to the organisation. Immediately, she had identified confidence as an issue that needed to be addressed – how could I help her reach her goal of operating effectively if we didn’t deal with the emotional issue she had highlighted?

Confidence is regularly cited as an issue to be addressed. That isn’t surprising but let’s explore a little more about what was happening for Rebecca. What was behind the lack of confidence? She assumed it was created in the workplace.

However, she had referred to fights with her daughter in two separate, but off-the cuff, statements as a key factor in what knocks her confidence. Then she would say “but back to the office…” and I stopped her from moving the conversation back into the workplace and asked her to explain what happened in these arguments and how they left her feeling.

This was a breakthrough. Rebecca identified that the reason she and her daughter fight is because neither of them feel listened to and she reacts immediately when confronted by her daughter. Emotions (feeling unheard) were driving behaviour (reacting to her daughter’s aggressive challenge) impacting on thoughts (criticising herself for not handling this better), in turn making her feel worse – a spiral of doubt.

We identified that she felt like a bad mother for failing to communicate or manage the relationship effectively (being drawn into arguing) and, because she felt so low about this, it meant she translated this as probably being an ineffective member of the senior management team. Rebecca’s perception of her relationship with her daughter was the root of her lack of self-confidence.

Working to address this built her self-assurance in the workplace which then helped her to achieve her goal of being an effective manager.

Emotions are linked to our ability to perform, so executive and corporate coaches need to be able to acknowledge and work with clients’ thoughts, feelings and emotions to help them achieve their goals.


Fiona Reynolds has worked in Public Health for almost 20 years. She’s interested in mental wellbeing and is also training as a coach focusing on workplace issues and career development.


*Not her real name.




Downey, M (2014) Effective Modern Coaching: The Principles and Art of Successful Business Coaching London: LID Publishing Ltd

Gorell R (2019) https://twitter.com/GrowTalentRo/status/1083939785134071808

Webster V and Webster M (2019) Leadership Thoughts: The Difference between coaching and mentoring {Available: https://www.leadershipthoughts.com/difference-between-coaching-and-mentoring/} [Accessed: 09.01.18]