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Gunhild Roald

Coaching leadership – as leaders see it

Area: Coaching

Session on Wednesday, Jun 24th, 11:50
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Gunhild Marie Roald works as a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Adult Learning and Counselling at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). She completed her masters in counselling in 2005. Her Ph.D. started in December 2011 and her doctoral thesis will be submitted in November 2015.

She has been employed as a social worker in an ideal organisation, working as the leader of a pioneering housing project with former drug addicts/prisoners, which resulted in her writing a publication about the experiences and the methodology of the project. She has also been working as a leader in a church-administrative organisation, with personnel responsibility for 25 employees.

Gunhild is a performing singer and composer, having written numerous pieces (music and lyrics) for female voice ensembles, primarily her own vocal quartet: Smyr.


It has been suggested that coaching principles cannot be directly transferred into the leadership context without taking its specific conditions into consideration. For instance, issues of power and responsibility have been identified as areas of dissonance between coaching and leadership theory. Put to extremes, the coaching relationship strives for an ideal of mutuality and equivalence, whereas the leader-employee relationship is inherently asymmetrical because of the legitimate power of the leader. Furthermore, coaching theory suggests that the coachee is capable to, and responsible of, finding the solutions to her challenges and pursuing goals in her life. In the leadership context, however, the coaching process is bound by the goals of the organisation and the leader is, ultimately, responsible for the consequences of choices made by the employee.

Empirical research into coaching leadership (most frequently referred to as managerial coaching) is still relatively sparse, and the leader perspective has been only modestly explored to date. By researching leaders` experience of coaching leadership, insight and knowledge can contribute to further developing the theory of coaching leadership, and thereby bridging the gap between coaching leadership theory and practice.

In this doctoral research, ten leaders have been interviewed in semi-structured, in-depth interviews, and fifteen informants have participated in two focus group interviews, the majority of them being leaders. All the informants have been through the same coaching course, but they work for different Norwegian companies. This has given an opportunity to explore the experience of coaching leadership from the perspective of leaders working in a variety of organisational contexts.

A phenomenological-hermeneutic approach is taken, and the concept of coaching leadership is understood in light of existential-humanistic theory.
One of the findings in this study suggests that the experience of the leaders seems to be integral, in spite of dichotomies identified in the literature. Although some of them struggle to see a link between coaching theory and their leadership experience in the beginning of the coaching course, they all seem to find, eventually, a ground from where coaching makes sense in relation to their leadership, and where there is no split between the feeling of being a leader and a coach, but rather, they seem to feel whole and integrated. As expressed by one of the leaders: “As a leader I don´t feel any different, or that I have two knobs and stuff, it´s not like that”. However, even though one of the leaders expresses: “When I am not a coaching leader, I am a bad leader” this does not seem to mean that coaching replaces any other leader approach, or behaviour, but rather, that the leaders search for the “coachability” of a variety of situations within their leadership.

In this session, this and other findings from the study will be further presented and discussed.

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