Dilemmas and decision making – How coaching can help leaders at the crossroads

How a self-aware professional could figure out the contradictions that arose from his view of things and the reality of his work situation


Leaders, especially, talented and competent ones, are critical for organisations. They perform well under pressure and willingly step up when required to shoulder a bigger load. They set higher standards for themselves and organisations also have higher expectations. However, they are not infallible and can be susceptible to burnout.

This article is the story of ‘D’ – a talented leader who was in in the throes of indecision, beset by contradictions that were weighing him down. The article describes how coaching helped him, and more importantly, offers key insights that would be helpful to coaches and HR leaders alike.

D, an immensely talented professional, was at a crucial juncture in his life and his career. He was at the crossroads searching for direction, not only at work but at home with his family as well. This case is about how coaching helped him come to terms with his dilemmas and facilitated decision making.

Professionally, his job was demanding and expectations were high. Personally, the fact that he was in his late forties meant that time was running out for him. His wife had been supportive, but she too had her expectations and his son was very much like him, which only made matters more difficult for him.

I found this case challenging because of the layers of complexity involved. It was very important to address the ‘Who’ in this situation, given his personality. He is an introvert, very intense with high self- awareness. He lives by a clear set of principles which defined his inner world and he also expects others to abide by his standards. He speaks in paragraphs, which are at times quite convoluted, as he tries to describe his thoughts in as much detail as possible.

An important element of his personality is the fact that he is a perfectionist at work. This was readily acknowledged by his peers and his boss.

Additionally, with regard to his relationships at home, he sensed that things could be better but did not know what he could do.

In executive coaching, it is imperative that all stakeholders are involved from the outset. The process involved an interview with his boss, followed by a joint meeting with D and his boss where the broad directions of coaching were specified. In this case, the directions were very general and not at all specific.

His boss made it very clear to D that coaching was a choice and not a compulsion and if he did not feel comfortable with me or the process, he was free to discontinue it. The ICF Coaching Core Competencies formed the foundation of the coaching process.

The competencies that worked well with D were questioning, listening, direct communication and the skills of establishing the coaching agreement in every session along with measures for success.

I have shared some excerpts of the real-time conversation that took place and how the coaching agreement was established based on any one of the challenges faced by D. For me, this was the most challenging part of the coaching.

D was highly self-aware and could fathom the contradictions that arose from how he ‘saw’ things and the reality of his work situation. To take his coaching forward, it was important to help D articulate these contradictions in a way that he would accept them.

“That’s a conflict which always remains. On the one hand, I don’t want to give up my identity, which is why I could kind of get to where I am. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be known as a non-team player”

“I was probably best at times when I was either alone or I was with a known set of people. How do I get to the point where I can decide, whether I should change myself or other people? That’s my dilemma”

”I have to be very meticulous in what I want to do. For example, I hate walking into a meeting unprepared, and when I see people walking into meetings unprepared, I just give up — because I think every second is important. I don’t want to waste any second of my life”

Each of these agreements formed the basis of my conversations in different sessions with D.

Key Learning — the Coachee leads; a coach can’t force the process

While it is important to identify goals and work with clients to help them achieve their goals, it doesn’t always work that way. It is important to let the clients lead the discovery process and use presence and strong active listening skills to help them open up. It’s always about the Coachee.

D liked the fact that I listened intently and did not offer judgement. He also liked the fact that I did not direct him but allowed him to take his time to peel the layers of understanding through his own process of reflection. This helped him think through his situation.

He also appreciated that as a coach I challenged and pushed him to ‘see’ his situation more deeply. In my view, what can be transferable in any situation is the willingness to practise direct communication with the clients and not be afraid to ask questions out of curiosity.

Effective coaching is not about getting it right from our point of view as coaches, but letting go of our need to get it right and being there for the clients in the moment — either with a question or an observation or simply a reflective silence.

A professional coach helps clients clarify their thoughts and ensures maximisation of their potential. Find the right coach for you now!

If you need support on your organisation’s and leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in India will be happy to help.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Prasad Deshpande is an executive coach credentialed by the ICF at the Master Certified Coach level (MCC). He heads a consultancy firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organisational processes. He is also the founder president of the ICF Pune Chapter. With over 30 years of experience working in India and internationally, Prasad’s passion lies in coaching and helping executives and their teams transform the way they think.


  1. Liked the dialogue in this article, it gives a thought to reflect, as always Prasad writes with amazing clarity

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