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Episode 52

Coaching Lessons from the CEO Whisperer

Possibly the biggest challenge for coaches is holding the tension between the client’s agenda and our job of listening for the underlying issue.

In this conversation with executive coach Jerry Colonna we look at the relationship between change and conflict, how to navigate a client’s presenting agenda and the ins and outs of attunement.

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Navigating the Client’s Agenda

So much of our behaviour comes from a desire to control life, to have the solutions, to feel a sense of certainty. In times of upheaval, our desire for control and certainty becomes even stronger, which is why our clients often come with a deep longing for answers.

Our job is to create the conditions for our clients to hear the voices they have been ignoring. To help them understand why they’re not listening and to ask deep questions, face the answers that arise and step into the next phase of their lives.

As coaches we face the danger of doing what our clients want us to do; to tell them what to do with their lives. When we do this, we are inadvertently asking them to do work that we are unwilling to do, which is to stay deeply present for the underlying issue.

Working with Conflict and Change

Generally, people are seeking to feel good, and change feels like conflict. Especially in organisations when innovation is required, conflict is something that requires a constructive approach. Our task is to help our clients manage their relationship with conflict in order to create the conditions for naturally occurring creativity to emerge.

Typically, there are two main approaches to conflict:

  • Avoidance
  • Aggression

Both create toxic work cultures. It can be tempting to accept what our clients are claiming is the cause of the problem, which is likely not going to be their behaviour. This is what Jerry calls the “presenting agenda”.

In order to feel better about ourselves as a coach or a leader we take the bait and follow the presenting agenda and try to help them do what they say they want to do. The issue with this is that we usually end up treating symptoms rather than going to the heart of the issue (which the client has not identified).

Attunement and the Power of Silence

It can feel like we’re not doing (saying) very much but so much is actually taking place between us and our clients – if we are highly attuned to our clients we are feeling what they are feeling.

This is the prerequisite for us to then speak from a deeply present place, and the likelihood of that being relevant for the client is then much greater. The key to this level of attunement is being present to our bodies and emotions and the feedback they are providing to us about our experience in the moment with our client.

Resources Mentioned:
Reboot: Leadership and the art of growing up
Doug Silsbee

About Jerry

Jerry Colonna

Jerry Colonna is the CEO and co-founder of, an executive coaching and leadership development firm whose coaches and facilitators are committed to the notion that better humans make better leaders. For nearly 20 years he has used the knowledge gained as an investor, an executive and a board member for more than 100 organizations to help entrepreneurs and others to lead with humanity, resilience and equanimity.


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