This hermeneutic phenomenological study attempted to provide a better understanding of the experiences of executive women who had been coached by an external executive coach. Ten executive women who worked for different organizations and had a wide variety of coaching experiences were interviewed. These executives were located through the Dun & Bradstreet Directory and referrals from executive coaches. They shared both personal and professional stories, reflections, feelings, ideas, and actions related to being coached.
I conducted a thematic analysis of the transcribed interviews to discover commonalities and synergies among participants' experiences. A list of preliminary themes emerged, and I conducted a follow-up interview with each participant to verify the findings. Themes were revised to incorporate their comments and reflect their meanings.
The analysis revealed insights into four categories of themes: (a) why coaching, (b) role of the coach, (c) insight to action, and (d) outcomes. A total of seventeen themes emerged: (a) feeling alone and wanting help, and motivated by challenge and growth; (b) coach is trusted, a professional, a guide, strengthens me, and expects action; (c) self-discovery and awareness, emotions, commitment to development process, challenges to thinking, tools guide action, and different actions get better results; and (d) being more effective with people, work life balance, how to work with my boss, and gender based workplace differences and challenges. The literature supported most themes; however, new insights were added.
Listening to the voice of these executive women added new perspectives to the coaching literature. Some new insights were that they sought coaching as a way to open themselves up to more challenge and growth, rather than to make behavioral changes.
They also felt alone at the top, wanted some help, and felt strengthened by the coach to take different actions. And feelings about coaching and learning were important in the process. While the literature recognized the importance of organization support for executive coaching, it was glaringly absent in these executives' experiences. Coaching outcomes that were a priority for these executives included work/life balance and how to work with her boss, another difference from the literature. And, lastly, the workplace context for coaching provided gender-based differences and challenges that were not discussed in the coaching literature but were found in the women's studies literature.