The Person-Centered Approach

The Person-Centered Approach

ALAN HEDMAN
The therapeutic relationship, then, is the critical variable, not what the therapist says or does.
—Gerald Corey (1982, p. 90)
Carl Rogers, the originator of the person-centered approach, was a defining spokesperson for humanistic psychology for nearly 50 years. His ideas provided a dominant methodology in counselor education and have widely influenced both individual and group counseling during the last half of the 20th century. Although it is not widely known, a main feature of his therapy has been the empirical testing of the core conditions associated with personal change in high-functioning individuals. This would seem to make the Rogerian approach an obvious choice for executive coaches, but for some reason it has not gotten much attention. In the world of executive coaching literature Doctor Rogers receives about the same level of respect as Mister Rogers!
Len Sperry (1996), for example, has written extensively about translating and extending clinical expertise to the dynamics of organizational settings. Although he describes the psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and family systems literature, he makes no reference to the extensive contributions of Rogers. The Consulting Psychology Journal (Kilburg, 1996a) dedicated an entire issue to executive coaching, describing coaching in the foreword title as an “Emerging Competency in the Practice of Consultation.” A distinguished group of authors in the coaching field reviewed the literature and attributed exactly one reference to Rogers.
There are a number of reasons for this consistent slight. Many professionals see Rogers in the way that they see Mister Rogers: kind and well meaning, but simplistic and clearly out of touch with the hard realities of the business world. If they gave a thought at all to his theoretical contributions, they would likely dismiss them as being too obvious or irrelevant to the work of executive coaches. This lack of attention and respect does a profound disservice not only to Rogers, but also to the executive coach who is looking to improve his or her core competencies. Research by Daniel Goleman (1995, 1998; and described in Chapter 11) and others on the application of emotional intelligence in the workplace has helped to restore some luster to the person-centered approach, as does the work of Stephen

Peltier, Bruce (2011-04-27). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application

Covey (1989). His “Habit 5” addresses this matter directly and in-depth (“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood; Principles of Empathetic Communication”).
Robert Cooper (1997) has worked extensively with business leaders and organizations, and he suggests that trust is one of the driving forces for competitive advantage. He quotes a former leader of the Ford executive team, who says, “Emotional intelligence is the hidden advantage (in business relationships). If you take care of the soft stuff, the hard stuff takes care of itself” (p. 31).
This so-called soft stuff (empathy, trust, listening, and communication skills) has consistently been shown to produce gains, innovations, and accomplishments by individuals, teams, and organizations. Its absence is frequently the cause of organizational mediocrity and even disintegration. If you think about it, most of the embarrassing gaffes described in Dilbert cartoons are directly related to problems of empathy, trust, authenticity, genuineness, and communication.
In his book If Aristotle Ran G.M.: The New Soul of Business, Tom Morris (1998) writes that “relationships rule the world.” His working principle is: “People first; projects second. If you have good relationships with people, the projects will come.” He suggests that the most important factor in business leadership is relationship. “What used to be called the ‘soft issue’ of business will increasingly be the differentiator of sustainable excellence of every industry in the world” (p. 199).
Rogers was a champion of the soft-stuff in counseling. Healthy application of soft skills has consistently been shown to be a critical factor in success or failure of executive coaching. Modern-day gurus of organizational psychology seldom give direct credit to these concepts presented by Rogers. But the centrality of these soft skills as Rogers presented them remains very much alive and well today.
The importance of soft skills often comes repackaged in another form. For example, the concept of emotional intelligence, made popular by Goleman and others, includes a recapitulation of many Rogerian concepts. And the title of Covey’s new traveling road show for leaders is “Leading at the SPEED of Trust.” That sounds very Rogerian, although Rogers may have been curious to see how his principles can be honored speedily.
In 2006 Daniel Pink published an influential book titled A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. He asserts that there are six essential aptitudes that will determine professional success and personal satisfaction in the future. One of the six? Empathy. He writes that the ability to empathize with others and to understand the subtleties of human interaction are part of the right-brain qualities that will increasingly determine who flourishes and who flounders.

Look, for example, at how empathy is helping to reshape medicine. Since the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics the medical field has followed a detached scientific model, with little or no emphasis on empathy. Recently, however, some medical and dental schools are now teaching courses like “The Craft of Empathy.” Empathy is not taught simply for political correctness. Research using the Jefferson Scale of Physical Empathy (Hojat et al., 2002) indicates that high scores on the empathy test are correlated with high marks in clinical care. Lucian Leape’s shocking 1994 essay on error in medicine pointed out that the high rates of death resulting from hospital error in the United States is directly related to interpersonal interactions: “The reasons are to be found in the culture of medical practice” (p. 1851).
Continuing research on the right-brain functioning will have a powerful effect on the way that empathy is viewed in organizations. No longer will empathy be seen as merely nice (but benign). It will be seen as a powerful force in the delivery of all human services.
Graham Jones (2008) in “Coaching Real Leaders,” notes that “real leaders,” those willing to step up to the plate and stop playing it safe, need authentic coaches who are empathetic and trustworthy. It is only when a caring relationship is established that executives will be willing to go beyond their comfort zone.
The well-known dental practice consultant L. D. Pankey advised his clients to “never treat a stranger,” meaning that doctors should get to know their patients before they put an instrument in their mouths (Wright, 1997, p. 13). Other giants of organizational consulting, including Tom Peters (Peters & Waterman, 1982) and W. Edwards Deming (1986), have repeatedly stated that although technique and technology are important, trust is the key issue when working with an organization. The words of these modern-day gurus of organizational consulting sound surprisingly similar to the mostly forgotten or abandoned concepts of Rogers. Beginner coaches as well as seasoned professionals will certainly find the work of Rogers important.
The following questions are key to this approach and are examined in this chapter:
• What core competencies are required for successful executive coaches?
• What are the necessary ingredients for a successful executive coaching program?
• What factors contribute to negative coaching outcomes?
• How can the principles and concepts of the Rogerian, person-centered approach assist the executive coach?
Historical Background
Carl Rogers received his PhD in clinical psychology from Columbia University in 1931. By

the 1940s, Rogers had grown increasingly frustrated with the behaviorist and psychoanalytic approaches that were dominant at the time, and he was especially bothered by the accepted role of the therapist as the directive expert. He began writing and developing what was then known as nondirective counseling or client-centered therapy. Rogers created a furor by challenging the basic assumption that “the therapist knows best,” as well as the validity of commonly accepted therapeutic procedures such as advice, suggestion, persuasion, teaching, and even diagnosis and psychosocial interpretation.
The person-centered approach is both relationship-oriented and experiential, growing out of the existential tradition in philosophy. Its underlying humanistic vision can be captured metaphorically by considering how an acorn, if provided with the appropriate nurturing conditions, will automatically grow in positive ways, as its potential pushes toward actualization (in this case, as a very large tree).
Rogers’s basic assumptions about people and the therapeutic process are distinctly American: pragmatic, optimistic, and believing in unlimited potential. People are essentially trustworthy; they have vast potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems without direct interventions by the therapist. Individual autonomy is deeply respected. Humans are capable of increasing growth toward self-direction if they are involved in a healthy therapeutic relationship. In his writings from the 1940s until the 1980s, Rogers consistently emphasized that the attitudes of the therapist as well as the quality of the client–therapist relationship are the prime determinants of the outcome of therapy. At its core, Rogerian theory requires that the therapist listen with acceptance and without judgment, if clients are to change (Heppner, Rogers, & Lee, 1984). The therapist’s knowledge of theory and techniques were relegated to a secondary position in the Rogerian approach, behind nonjudgmental acceptance of the client.
View of Human Nature
A consistent theme underlies most of Rogers’s writing: deep faith in the tendency of people to develop in a positive and constructive manner if a climate of respect and trust is established. He had little use for any system based on assumptions that people could not be trusted or must be directed, motivated, instructed, punished, rewarded, controlled, and managed by others who are in a superior or “expert” position.
He maintained there are three therapist characteristics for a growth-promoting climate in which people can realize their inherent potential:
1. Congruence or genuineness
2. Unconditional positive regard and acceptance
3. Accurate empathic understanding

Congruence or Genuineness
Of the three characteristics, congruence is the most important. Congruence means that thought, feeling, and behavior (action) are all aligned. The therapist must be real, genuine, integrated, and authentic. Rogers distrusted any therapeutic facade. He believed that through authenticity the therapist serves as a model of a human being struggling toward greater “realness.” Therapists must be themselves during the time that they are counseling. They must put aside all facades and roles during the counseling process and must be “fully present” for the interaction. This naturally may require the counselor to engage in self-disclosure from time to time.
Unconditional Positive Regard and Acceptance
Therapists need to communicate a deep and genuine caring toward their clients. This caring is unconditional in that it is not evaluative or judgmental of the client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is an attitude of “I’ll accept you as you are” rather than “I’ll accept you when …” It was Rogers’s observation that a parental view that children will be acceptable when they “behave” is underneath the split between a person’s sense of their real self and their ideal self. The result is a vague and chronic feeling of inadequacy. Unconditional positive regard is a tool used to help merge the real and the ideal, so that one’s sense of their real self is then accepted and even embraced. This then loosens one’s tight clutch on identity and the corresponding self-defeating behavior and allows honest self-examination. Giving up the need to defend one’s identity can result in real change. Unconditional positive regard means that clients are accepted as they currently are, right now. Under this condition there is no need for defensiveness, and openness is possible. According to Rogers (1977), research indicates that the greater the degree of caring, accepting, and valuing, the greater the chance that therapy will be successful.
Accurate Empathic Understanding
A main task of the therapist is to demonstrate understanding of the client’s experience and feelings as revealed in the therapeutic interaction. The therapist strives to understand the client’s subjective reality—trying to walk in his shoes by reflecting, with sensitivity and accuracy, a therapeutic understanding of what was said as well as the meaning and feelings underlying the words. Accurate empathy goes beyond the recognition of obvious feelings to those less obvious feelings, the ones that are only partially recognized by the client. This deeper subjective understanding of the client can only come with patience and careful, caring listening.
If these three therapist attitudes (congruence/genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and accurate empathy) are communicated to the client, Rogers postulates that the client will

become less defensive and more open to necessary therapeutic changes. The success or usefulness of the counseling process depends upon these qualities. For a more complete description of these core qualities, see Cormier and Cormier (1985).
Basic Characteristics and the Core Premise
Rogers did not present the person-centered theory as a fixed or complete approach to therapy. Rogers and Wood (1974) describe the characteristics that distinguish the person-centered approach from other models. Two of these distinctions are: First, the person-centered approach focuses on client responsibility and the capacity to discover ways to encounter reality more fully. This approach emphasizes the phenomenal world of the client. The primary intent is for the helper to comprehend the client’s internal frame of reference and focus on the client’s perception of self and the world. Second, the person-centered approach is not rooted in a set of techniques or dogma. Rather, it is best seen as an attitude and belief system demonstrated by the therapist. It is both a way of being and a shared journey in which therapist and client reveal their humanness and participate in a growth experience.
The Process: Therapeutic Goals
The underlying aim of therapy is to provide a climate conducive to helping the individual become a healthy and fully functioning person. The person-centered approach places the primary responsibility for the direction of therapy on the client. The general goals of therapy are as follows:
1. Openness to experience (less defensive, more aware of reality)
2. Achieving self-trust
3. Internal source of evaluation (looking to oneself for the answers)
4. Willingness to continue growing
As can be seen, specific goals are not imposed on clients; rather, they choose their own values and goals.
The Therapist’s Function and Role
The role of the person-centered therapist is grounded in a way of being, in an attitude, not in theory, knowledge, or techniques designed to get the client to do something or to change. Basically, the therapist creates a climate that allows the client to grow. First and foremost, the therapist must be willing to be real in the relationship with the client. The therapist does not diagnose or label; nor does the therapist give advice.

Rogers’s view (1967) of the therapist’s job is “to give a client or person my full, caring attention without judging or evaluating them.”
Rogerian counseling places demands on the counselor, and a coach should pay heed to these requirements. A person-centered approach requires a counselor who is able to be “present” in the counseling relationship. The counselor must be able to fully engage with the client, undistracted by personal agendas or roles, so that he or she can accurately experience that client. He or she cannot, therefore, be an agent of the company, attempting to mold their client according to company needs or the dictates of a boss. The counselor must also be able to demonstrate unconditional positive regard for the client, establishing no conditions for acceptance. The counselor must take a nonjudgmental attitude and communicate this attitude to the client. He or she must be able to achieve accurate empathy, to sense the client’s private world as if it were his or her own. These are simple but uncommon qualities, and because they are not easy for most people to learn, many psychotherapists have spent years or even a lifetime practicing and honing them.
The Relationship between Therapist and Client
The person-centered approach emphasizes the personal relationship between client and therapist. Therapy is an active partnership. Rogers (1961) summarized this basic hypothesis in the following way:
If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth and change, and personal development will occur. (p. 33)
In later writings, Rogers (1967, p. 63) hypothesized in a fairly radical observation that “significant positive personality change does not occur except in a relationship.”
The contributions of the person-centered approach, however basic and self-evident they may appear, have had a profound effect on the helping professions. Its core skills (active listening, respecting clients, and adopting their internal frame of reference) are great fundamental tools for the effective executive coach. This will become clearer with a closer look at the basic ingredients for a successful executive coaching program.
Basic Ingredients of Executive Coaching
It is curious to look at the current literature on executive coaching and see the striking similarity to many of the ideas and concepts of Rogers. Although Sperry (1996) never makes direct reference, he surely sounds Rogerian when he discusses executive coaching and consultation. The consultant’s role is one of listener, confidant, and personal adviser. Essentially, the consultant serves as a sounding board and as an objective and trustworthy source of feedback. Such consultation sessions consist of directed discussions initiated by

the executive-client who sets the agenda.
David Peterson (1996), in discussing the art of one-on-one change in executive coaching, has clearly been influenced by Rogers. He describes the first phase as “forging the partnership.” Coaches must build trust and understanding so that people will want to work with them. A partnership requires that coaches earn the trust of people they coach, so they can provide the right amounts of challenge and support throughout the process. If a coach fails here, in Peterson’s view people will discount the coach’s perspective and will resist opening up, taking risks, or experimenting with new behaviors. To build trust, coaches must learn how people view the world and what they care about. Peterson even quotes Rogers on this last point: “The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual” (Rogers, 1961, quoted in Peterson, 1996, p. 79). This strategy requires effective listening skills, patience, and an understanding of the dynamics of human behavior.
Richard Diedrich (1996, p. 62) from The Hay Group also sounds very Rogerian when he discusses feedback in the coaching process. To be effective, feedback “needs to be two-way, engaging, responsive, and directed toward a desired outcome.” One of the most important elements in this process is empathy, which builds trust when expressed through listening and the active sharing of perspectives.
Peggy Hutcheson (1996) proposes tips for coaches that will help them move along the continuum from wanting to control the results to wanting to empower others by helping them take responsibility for change. That sounds like something directly from the Rogerian handbook for executive coaches. Her specific tips include:
1. Accept that the coach is not in control
2. Listen
3. Pay attention to what is not being said as well as to what you hear
4. Coach, do not judge
5. Guide the other person to his or her own solutions
6. Suspend your expertise
When Kilburg (1996b) discusses negative coaching outcomes, as in “insufficient empathy for the client” (the coach did not truly care about the client’s well-being or future), his debt to Rogers is obvious. When Witherspoon and White (1996) discuss four distinctly different executive coaching roles—coaching for skills, coaching for performance, coaching for development, and coaching for the executive’s agenda—each is premised on the Rogerian concept of establishing a working partnership between equals.

Rogerian Applications to Coaching
Rogers’s ideas have always been thought to be ideal for high-functioning, mentally healthy people. From this brief review of current literature, it should be obvious that Rogerian principles are well suited for any successful executive coaching program.
Rogerian coaches have two challenging tasks: to be Rogerian (to do the recommended things and to model genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and congruence) and to teach these things to clients so that they can become Rogerian in their work settings and lives.
The first task is the general application of the Rogerian principles: (1) create a genuine, authentic, one-on-one relationship with the client; (2) achieve accurate empathy through unconditional positive regard and acceptance; (3) really hear the client and fully accept him or her as he or she currently is; and (4) reflect what you hear back to the client so that he or she can fully appreciate their situation as it is.
The second Rogerian task is useful with most coaching clients, but not all (those rare clients who are excellent listeners are the exception). Teach clients how to listen. Listening is a prerequisite for any worthwhile relationship, and while most people think that they are good listeners, most people are not. Humans will allow themselves to be influenced after they decide that they have been heard and understood. Remember the old quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Plus, people who do not listen are just not interesting. They do not seem smart and are not taken seriously. Even so, in these fast-paced times, many executives lack solid listening skills, and an effective 360-degree evaluation often points this out. The Center for Creative Leadership (Hoppe, 2006) reports that “assessments of thousands of leaders in CCL’s database indicate that many leaders have development needs that directly relate to their listening skills” (p. 8).
Apply active listening with clients and show them how to do it. Active listening includes the following skills and behaviors:
• Stop and pay attention—Although this step may seem obvious, it is shocking to observe how often it fails to happen. A good listener takes care to establish a comfortable, nonthreatening atmosphere for interaction, using physical listening, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
• Use physical listening—Help clients with their posture and physical mannerisms so that they give the clear impression that they are paying attention. Give them feedback about their eye contact, and the way that they appear when they are listening. Congruence requires that physical messages be aligned and consistent with the verbal ones. When the way you look and what you say are in conflict, your messages become confusing. The listener wonders:

Rogerian Applications to Coaching
Rogers’s ideas have always been thought to be ideal for high-functioning, mentally healthy people. From this brief review of current literature, it should be obvious that Rogerian principles are well suited for any successful executive coaching program.
Rogerian coaches have two challenging tasks: to be Rogerian (to do the recommended things and to model genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and congruence) and to teach these things to clients so that they can become Rogerian in their work settings and lives.
The first task is the general application of the Rogerian principles: (1) create a genuine, authentic, one-on-one relationship with the client; (2) achieve accurate empathy through unconditional positive regard and acceptance; (3) really hear the client and fully accept him or her as he or she currently is; and (4) reflect what you hear back to the client so that he or she can fully appreciate their situation as it is.
The second Rogerian task is useful with most coaching clients, but not all (those rare clients who are excellent listeners are the exception). Teach clients how to listen. Listening is a prerequisite for any worthwhile relationship, and while most people think that they are good listeners, most people are not. Humans will allow themselves to be influenced after they decide that they have been heard and understood. Remember the old quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Plus, people who do not listen are just not interesting. They do not seem smart and are not taken seriously. Even so, in these fast-paced times, many executives lack solid listening skills, and an effective 360-degree evaluation often points this out. The Center for Creative Leadership (Hoppe, 2006) reports that “assessments of thousands of leaders in CCL’s database indicate that many leaders have development needs that directly relate to their listening skills” (p. 8).
Apply active listening with clients and show them how to do it. Active listening includes the following skills and behaviors:
• Stop and pay attention—Although this step may seem obvious, it is shocking to observe how often it fails to happen. A good listener takes care to establish a comfortable, nonthreatening atmosphere for interaction, using physical listening, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
• Use physical listening—Help clients with their posture and physical mannerisms so that they give the clear impression that they are paying attention. Give them feedback about their eye contact, and the way that they appear when they are listening. Congruence requires that physical messages be aligned and consistent with the verbal ones. When the way you look and what you say are in conflict, your messages become confusing. The listener wonders:

Sometimes, if you are paying attention you can spot a tiny flash of emotion. Interest in emotions has an added benefit: It makes conversations more interesting. However, overt talk about emotions is not always appropriate in the business setting, so discretion and judgment are important.
• Share—Reveal important reactions appropriately. Use discretion here and share what you think and feel in a way that supports the speaker and moves the conversation forward in a productive direction.
• Withhold judgment while listening—Allow the speaker to make their point, and listen with an open mind. Make necessary judgments later, after you have had time to think. A judgmental stance tends to foster unnecessary competition in conversation. This limits what can be accomplished.
• Acknowledge difference—In any serious discussion there are likely to be areas of disagreement. It can be useful to politely acknowledge these differences in a matter-of-fact way.
As you know, we probably differ on this, but my opinion is that such-and-such is true.
Give feedback on specific listening skills as you coach. When your client interrupts, call his or her attention to it. When clients change the subject without attending to what the previous speaker has said, mention this. When they go on and on without noticing the impact on the listener, tell them. Catch them when they argue unnecessarily or when they judge too quickly or when they seem disinterested. Better yet, show them on a video made while they were listening or speaking. Feedback about the ways that clients behave around others may be the single most important and valuable service that a coach can provide. Most of us have some blind spots. Remember: Other people are not willing or able to provide such feedback to your client. You may be the only one who can.
Give clients feedback on the impression they make on you. Notice your own feelings as a coach and as a person. Think carefully about this, and when it is appropriate, share your reactions with them (when it will contribute to your clients’ development, is not a manipulation, and it does not meet some need of your own). The principle is this: If you have a certain strong reaction to them, it is likely that others have a similar reaction (although this is not always so).
Coach clients on authenticity. Assess their level of genuineness, including how authentically they engage listeners. Discuss this with them and work on achieving just the right amount of personal engagement in each interaction. Some clients may be too personal, revealing too much about themselves, whereas others reveal nothing. Some people grew up in cultures where it is considered impolite to ask personal questions or reveal personal matters, especially in a business situation. To others, however, this can seem stiff and disinterested.
Strengths of the Approach
The person-centered approach provides profound insight into how an executive coach should be with a client. Active listening, respecting the client, and adopting the client’s internal frame of reference can provide clients with the opportunity (so rare in the business world) to be really listened to and accurately heard. The power of these so-called soft attributes should never be underestimated as they help build trust, commitment, and loyalty to the executive coaching process. Many business leaders simply lack empathy and listening skills, and the coaching process can provide a living model for empathic listening when done from a person-centered view. This can provide a huge advantage for a leader, especially given that effective leadership typically involves social influence.
Although these Rogerian attitudes are important throughout the entire coaching process, their greatest strength lies in the beginning stages related to “forging the partnership.” Unless trust is established and attitudes of respect, care, and acceptance are communicated, most executive coaching interventions will fail.
The Rogerian approach is useful in executive coaching because pathology is rarely the issue at hand. Executive-clients are typically high-functioning, mentally healthy people who need to explore their current working situation and make adjustments or learn new skills. The person-centered way allows for relatively quick rapport and accurate assessment of the coaching situation.
Occasionally, clients are referred for coaching (by a boss or by the organization), but they are not on board with the coaching process and do not welcome or trust it. They may superficially cooperate, even though they feel resentful or disdainful. A fast-moving plan for change can be disastrous in such a case, as the executive-client is not likely to put much sincere effort into the process. At worst, a client sabotages the process, and everybody loses. A Rogerian approach, from the beginning, has the best chance for success, for accurate empathy will require the coach to figure this out, without judgment, defensiveness, or blaming. The coach and client can start with the “truth” (that the client resents the coaching or is afraid of it) and go from there to the possibility that coaching can become a positive experience.
Limitations
The Rogerian approach is not a good “stand-alone” theory. This approach is an excellent place to begin a coach–client relationship, but may not be a good place to remain as the coaching process develops. Content knowledge, assessment skills, and motivational

techniques all have an important role in executive coaching. The insights from other theoretical perspectives, particularly cognitive-behavioral, family systems, and psychoanalytic theories, are necessary to compliment the core conditions described by Rogers.
Coaching Examples
Two very different examples will help exemplify how best to apply the person-centered approach in executive coaching.
The Case of Bill
Bill is a 40-year-old vice president for human resource management in a midsized, nonprofit organization. He has been required to attend coaching sessions by the new chief executive officer (CEO) who finds Bill to be good on “rules and regulations” but lacking in people skills, namely, an ability to show warmth and understanding. Bill was esteemed by the former CEO, who appreciated his in-depth knowledge of complex administrative procedures. In a sense, Bill is an example of the “what got you here won’t get you there” problem described by Marshall Goldsmith (Goldsmith & Reiter, 2007).     Bill represents a typical senior executive, as described by the KRW International Group (Kiel, Rimmer, Williams, & Doyle, 1996), that is, someone who scores 1 or 2 standard deviations above the mean on measures of dominance and need for control. He is not “psychologically minded,” and may hold distrust or disdain for the “soft” side of leadership. Therefore, planning for resistance is extremely important with this type of client. We can assume that the coaching process will be “bumpy.”
It became clear that Bill was highly resistant to coaching. He did not think the present CEO really understood him and was dubious that anything helpful might emerge from the coaching process. The Rogerian perspective was extremely useful in helping the coach forge a partnership with Bill. Rather than immediately proposing a game plan or rushing to develop a training technique, the coach spent the majority of the first few sessions listening intently to see the issues from Bill’s point of view. Generally speaking, working for understanding is more productive than direct confrontation with resistant clients. As a result of his coach’s genuineness and accurate empathy, Bill began to see the coach as an “honest broker” and an ally who could actually help him. After establishing trust, the coach developed an anger management and communication skills program, and Bill was able to work diligently with him on developing these skills. The process of empathy caused Bill’s resistance to melt. There was then little to resist, and the hard-charging young executive could get to work on the problems at hand. Rogerian coaching also served as a model for enhancement of Bill’s interaction skills in the workplace. He improved his interactions by

leading in some of the ways he was coached.
The Case of Betty
Betty, age 35, was considered a budding superstar for a large recreational management corporation. She was being groomed to assume more managerial responsibilities, but was encountering difficulty. Her boss noticed that she was very uncomfortable with conflict and often avoided such situations. Betty had many years of successful independent job experience, but limited experience in managing other people. She was also a perfectionist who had great difficulty dealing with perceived failure.
Betty had initially reported being both “excited and scared” about the possibility of a coaching program. A previous (directive) counseling experience made her wary of another similar venture, as she felt that her previous counselor did not understand or appreciate her. Knowing that she was primarily in charge of the direction of the current coaching program, she participated, but without much enthusiasm. Here again, the Rogerian approach helped Betty get past her wariness and hesitation. The coach’s willingness to listen, his attitude of caring and respect, and his willingness to let Betty “drive the train” helped establish the trust necessary to begin work on her difficulty with conflict and perfectionism. The coaching began by communicating accurate empathy. This empathy led to an understanding of the way that Betty felt. A coaching program was developed, along with an action plan after Betty decided that she was really being heard and understood. Once her initial resistance diminished, she was able to engage in coaching on her own behalf. She figured out what needed improvement and development, and she got going. Her coach encouraged honest and direct communication during the coaching process and used it as a bridge to foster more direct communication in the workplace. The coach encouraged Betty to confront difficult situations in a direct manner, and they rehearsed the interactions together using video feedback. They worked on establishing and valuing authentic communication. Betty learned some of the Rogerian listening skills and practiced them, so that they would be in place for difficult moments of conflict in the workplace.
Her coach also listened carefully to Betty’s concerns about perfection, reflecting back and paraphrasing, so that Betty could hear and think about what it all meant. Gradually, Betty began to accept herself in greater proportions, giving up the need to feel perfect in order to engage projects and people. Betty’s real self and ideal self began to merge.
The Future of Genuineness, Acceptance, and Empathy
The future of the principles proposed by Rogers is very bright indeed. But it will come without Rogers attached. Writings on the theory and application of psychology for executive coaching will continue to emphasize the importance of genuineness, unconditional

positive regard, and empathy in the coach–client relationship. But you will be unlikely to find any reference to Rogers’s groundbreaking person-centered approach. Freud and Jung are still very much alive in the minds of those who write about psychotherapy. But Rogers is lost, no doubt due to a lack of “sex appeal.” His ideas are common, sensible, and simplistic, seemingly unworthy of high intellectual regard. His approach, nonetheless, will continue to grow in importance for the executive coach–client relationship.
That said, it must be noted that we have officially entered the world of the sound bite. Executive coaches are increasingly coached to focus on rapid results, so that executives feel that time spent on coaching is justified (Jones, 2008). Rogers’s methods do not emphasize speed. As a matter of fact, they may run exactly 180 degrees against a hasty approach to deep human understanding and change.
There is likely to be a continual battle between empathy and quickness. Coaches will be taught the importance of creating genuine empathy in the coaching relationship, with the following caveat: Do it fast enough so as not to lose the interest of the high-energy, fast-moving, short-attention-span executive they are coaching. And remember John Wooden’s advice: “Be quick, but don’t hurry” (Hill & Wooden, 2001).
Summary
1. The person-centered approach can be viewed as the sine qua non (or ultimate prerequisite) for the successful executive coach. It is a set of threshold skills. These skills and conditions must be in place before other interventions are attempted. Without them, other coaching interventions are unlikely to make a difference. The core skills described by this approach are demanding, but they constitute a core competency for coaches. This approach is essential for the development of a working relationship with clients. The ultimate power of the person-centered approach is realized when it is used in eclectic combinations with other powerful theoretical interventions.
2. Refresh your knowledge of Rogerian skills, if necessary. Review basic listening techniques and actively work on your own interaction skills as a coach. Get feedback from another coach or counselor about your listening skills and interaction style. We all have blind spots.
3. Teach listening skills to your clients. With their permission, give them extensive feedback on the way that they listen and the impact that they have on you and on others.
4. Relentlessly strive to understand things from the point of view of your client.
5. Work on authenticity for the rest of your days.
References

Cooper, R. (1997, December). Applying emotional intelligence in the workplace. Training & Development, 51(12), 31–38.
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Recommended Readings
Joseph, S., & Bryant-Jeffries, R. (2008). Person-centred coaching psychology. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology (pp. 211–228). London: Routledge.
Meier, S. T., & Davis, S. R. (2007). The elements of counseling. Florence, KY: Cenage-Brooks/Cole.
Rock, D. (2006). Quiet leadership. New York: HarperCollins.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Stober, D. R. (2006). Coaching from the humanistic perspective. In D. R. Stober& A. M. Grant (Eds.), Evidence based coaching (pp. 17–50). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Peltier, Bruce (2011-04-27). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application

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