ASK THE OD DOCTORS: Is Executive Coaching Simply "Therapy" for Senior Executives?


“Is Executive Coaching Simply "Therapy" for Senior Executives?”

Reflections and Thoughts by Dr. Lily Cheng

Founder & Chief OD Catalyst


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The use of coaching has been around since the 1980s but now, organisations are beginning to understand the potential to develop leaders and give them the edge in an increasingly competitive global business environment. 

Consider this: How can we transform the organisation if we do not help the most significant person in the organisation, that is, the senior executive who is entrusted with the conductor stick? This senior person will orchestrate the rest of the organisation to harmonise, collaborate and showcase the best performance. One of the OD approaches that we use looks at the organisational level, team level and individual level, but we have not seriously considered that this individual level approach is a tipping point in raising the organisational effectiveness. Through the ONE PERSON approach, senior executives will gain individual hindsight, insight, outsight and foresight to garner holistic perspectives to their current reality and their desired future of the organisation.  

After being an executive coach for 15 years or more, it has finally dawned on me that one of the most powerful organisation development tools used to transform the organisation is through executive coaching. Imagine the investment that is a power of 10 to a 100….  Some of you may feel that it is overly simplistic to say that the success of organisational transformation depends on the one at the TOP.

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The rapidity of change and increase in complexity have exceeded the ability of leaders to adapt. In fact, most leaders have to master ongoing change and create sustainable good performance. The ability to adapt is no longer an intellectual challenge but an emotional challenge.  On many occasions, the intellectual challenge to have buy-in with employees on a change initiative or change direction has been over-emphasised, with leaders thinking that if the logic is addressed, people automatically embrace the change and will make it work. 

Yet in all my consulting works with clients during transformational change, the crux of the issue is always about managing the psychological disequilibrium experienced. The need to address emotional distress arising from loss of status, power, relationships and one’s identity seem to be more overwhelming than the rational or logic of change. In most change situations, people go through an emotional change curve. 

As an analogy, when people are sick they cannot perform at their best. If we do not learn to manage emotional challenges faced by our people,  how do we then expect them to perform? Therefore, this is one of the new leadership challenges that many top leaders now face. 


Executive coaching is a strategic OD intervention that will help senior executives to enhance their performance and achieve their organisational goals. It is a means to help them manage a constantly changing business environment, refine their leadership skills and help them achieve their full potential.  In my executive coaching practice, many senior executives that i have coached were significantly more successful in achieving their goals and achieving a higher success rate in their organisational change.

Very much like what a sports coach will do for you, an executive coach will in the same way, improve your personal best.  Executive coaching gives senior executives a space to hear their own voices as they talk and think through their challenges. They are made aware of their dysfunctional perspectives, beliefs and attitudes that may hold them back.  They are provided with a sounding board to clarify their values and what they stand for, that will lead to greater conviction. Their blindspots will be highlighted with the help of qualitative and quantitative feedback from those who work with them.  They will be told brutal facts which others may not reveal. Emotional support, empathy and encouragement to act with courage.  will be given to them. They will be equipped with specific skills that will make them more effective and impactful when working with a diverse and multigenerational workforce.  

So that with clarity, they are able to charge forward with rigour and relentless pursuit to realise the organisation's potential. This is how, in my perspective, real OD help is cascaded to the rest of the organisation. 

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