Once upon a time there was a CEO
Once upon a time there was a CEO, who executed everything like nothing had happened. You could hardly see that his wife was seriously ill, that the company was in a financial crisis, and that the staff was running hard, but unfortunately in many different directions.
“My first reflex after being a leader and having carried responsibility for decades was that I’ll manage, I have the answers, I’ll fix it, I’m responsible. Suddenly I noticed, though, that I might not manage, I don’t have the strength to give all the answers, I no longer can take care of everything. The burden of the responsibility was getting to heavy. I needed help.” So the CEO writes when asked to tell others about our coaching-process.
We met by chance when his situation was at its worst. I could see he wasn’t in perfect shape, and his answer to my question about how he was doing was honest: Not so well. I suggested that we would meet for a discussion.
The CEO came and we have had half a dozen of sessions of existential coaching, which the British executive coach Nick Bolton defines like this: “At its heart, existential coaching is an exploration of how an individual’s experience of the human condition affects their day to day living and, where needed, how they can confront these conditions in a more authentic, courageous way, to be happier, more fulfilled and more effective.”
As with all my clients this far, the dialogues with the CEO concerned both work and private life. Man is indivisible, we can try to play different roles at the workplace and outside of it, but the actor is the same person. The human conditions we all share applies 24/7. There are many definitions of these conditions, the American psychiatrist Irwin Yalom’s are among the most cited: death, meaninglessness, freedom, isolation.
“Barbro turned out to be an excellent coach in this situation. With her help we divided my tangle of problems into parts, analyzed them one at a time and thought over solutions. Barbro also helped me to see traits in myself, that I had not seen or understood before,” the CEO writes.
This is what usually happens. We start from the situation that the client is in. It’s often about problems at work and/or at home: the client describes it as concretely as possible, together we try to understand what is happening (but we don’t focus too much on explanations and causes). Little by little the pieces of the puzzle start to form a picture. Here we are, for better and worse.
Nick Bilton sees the function of coaching compared to psychotherapy like this: “Traditionally this has been the stomping ground of the psychotherapist but there is no obvious reason why this should be their domain exclusively. It is possible to be perfectly well functioning, effective and emotionally healthy yet still be confronting the core issues of existence and desirous of finding a new way to relate to your life.”
Existential thinkers and professionals have many different perspectives on the human being and her existence in the world, but according to the British existential psychotherapeut Martin Adams, three principles unite all existentialists:
– Phenomenology. A method for understanding the world. Objective truth and logic must be rooted in human experience – the world is above all an experience, thereafter an object for my consciousness. The present time is more important than the past when it comes to getting a grip of the truth of one’s own and building the future.
– The existence (that something is) comes before the essence (what something is). Living comes before knowing as the basis for gaining knowledge about the world.
– Freedom. The human being is free, although her freedom is limited. From freedom follows personal responsibility to make decisions, choose (and thereby opt-out of other choices), and act.
With this CEO, as with other bosses, our process grew to an existential leadership-coaching – at times very operational, at times deep loops into existential themes, like responsibility and isolation.
“Barbro’s experience as a business leader plays, together with her training in existential coaching, an important part of her competence. Through experience of her own she knows how lonely a business leader can be with the problems,” he writes.
But one must not be alone, if one doesn’t wish to. The choice is yours.
Nick Bolton’s article on existential coaching: