Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change
Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour
Executive Coaching; Executives; Psychodynamic Lens; Stress; Taboo
Purpose: Workplace stress is becoming an acknowledged problem, and employee assistance programmes are widely invested into reducing workplace stress. However, there is still a group of people who are neglected: senior executives. There is a taboo among this group about admitting to overwhelming stress, as the executives themselves can consider it a sign of weakness. Executive coaches often pick up symptoms of underlying stress, including sleep deprivation, or substance abuse in leadership development programmes or executive coaching sessions. However, unless the coach is a trained stress expert, medical doctor, or psychotherapist, he or she may feel unequipped to help a senior executive deal with stress. This article introduces an interpretative protocol to gage senior executive stress to flag up potential stress issues and areas to be addressed in coaching or by health professionals.Methods: Based on a literature review on common workplace stress factors and symptoms, the authors identified five areas in which senior executive stress may arise. In a next step, following a psychodynamic approach, they developed an interpretative protocol that can be used in conversational or observational approach to gage stress in these areas. Conclusions: the author's intent was to achieve a delicate balance between flexibility, face validity, and academic rigour. The protocol helps the coach to detect and interpret stress indicators despite possible self-deception and impression management by the coach.