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Becoming simultaneously thicker and thinner skinned: The inherent conflicts arising in the professional development of coaches

Erik de Haan (Ashridge Business School, Berkhamsted, UK)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 August 2008




There is a hidden paradox inherent in the ideal of continuing professional development (CPD) for executive coaches, stemming from the fact that the coach wishes to retain or preserve the freshness and openness of a “beginner”, whilst also acquiring greater robustness and resilience in the face of difficult assignments. The paradox reminds us of the “castle and battlefield” metaphor of Roger Harrison: on the one hand a strong container is needed and on the other vulnerability to allow the coach to be affected and even hurt by the coaching experiences. The objective of this paper is to find ways of resolving this paradox, based on what coaches themselves say about critical moments in their practice.


A total of 69 critical moments as reported by 60 coaches are content‐analysed with the help of grounded research.


In the analysis a picture emerges of doubts (instrumental, relational and existential), which the coaching process opens up for coaches, and which CPD may help them become aware of, explore and lay to rest. The most promising methodology for doing this seems to be coaching supervision, conducted in the safest possible environment.

Research limitations/implications

From this qualitative research by a single researcher inter‐rater reliabilities cannot (yet) be reported.

Practical implications

It emerges that what coaches need most from their CPD is robustness in the face of their instrumental and existential doubts, and vulnerability when it comes to their relational doubts.


With the growth of the executive coaching profession, there is increasing interest in the value of CPD for coaches. Executive coaches are embarking on CPD in large numbers, and are asking what is most relevant to them in their ongoing development. This paper offers empirical data that may inform CPD.



de Haan, E. (2008), "Becoming simultaneously thicker and thinner skinned: The inherent conflicts arising in the professional development of coaches", Personnel Review, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 526-542.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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