An ambitious account manager is ready to progress, but his CEO says he needs more development. He feels sidelined. How could coaching get him ‘unstuck’?

The issue

Paul is an account manager in a digital transformation agency. His team are responsible for delivering million-pound projects to the biggest, most well known businesses in operation today. He’s ambitious, with a growing family and lives in London.

But Paul is very frustrated with his work life and his lack of progression. He really wants to make things work at the organisation, but he is prepared to leave if it doesn’t happen in the way he wants and feels he needs.

His boss Mike, the CEO, doesn’t feel Paul is ready to direct the whole function at a strategic level. In fact, they have recently appointed a new strategic director.

Mike says he sees great potential for Paul to grow into a director role. He wants to do what he can to keep and develop him. However, Paul is angry, hurt and disappointed that a new person had been brought in over him. And he is unimpressed with the way the new strategic director is operating.

As a result, Paul has started focusing on the operational aspects of his job – the parts of it that he can control. And he is avoiding the more strategic aspects – the parts where he would have to engage with the new director, and which would potentially offer him the most learning opportunities.

Paul now feels stuck. How might coaching help him?


Antoinette Oglethorpe

Leadership development consultant, coach, speaker and author


Coaching can address this situation to great effect. It’s partly about leadership development and partly about career management, and the intelligent and careful dovetailing of the two. It’s about developing a leader in a way that helps the organisation from a leadership perspective and the individual from a career perspective.

In Paul’s case I would help him to explore what he wants from his career. First, I would encourage him to identify what his current role already delivers. Then I would encourage him to think about what the organisation needs. That would allow us to discuss how his career aspirations fit in with the longer-term vision of the business.

Next, I would ask Paul to identify who the key stakeholders are, and we would discuss what they need to see for him to realise his true career aspirations.

It strikes me that Paul’s relationship with the new strategic director might be a critical one. His current behaviour may be self-sabotage. It might prevent him from achieving his career goals. I would help Paul explore strategies and steps to improve his situation and this key working relationship.

I would use the coaching to help Paul deliver what the organisation needs and develop his own role. We would start by creating a leadership dashboard that has four key areas:

  1. Performance How well is he delivering the organisation goals and objectives
    2. People How effective are his team
    3. Profile How good is his reputation with senior decision-makers, and
    4. Partnerships How well does he collaborate with peers and external influencers.


Having completed an assessment of each of these areas I would help Paul set clear goals in each. These would be our focus for the coaching.


David Birch

Executive coach and supervisor


Paul is suffering. He feels thwarted in his ambitions for career progression and publicly humiliated by the appointment of the strategic director. He is operating in survival mode: to fly or to freeze.

Avoidance of the strategic director and his operational focus is Paul in flight mode, distracting himself from the feelings and fantasies that keep him awake at night. Paul is in a classic ‘double-bind’, grimly aware he is sabotaging himself, but unable to contemplate any other course of action.

If I was coaching Paul, I would want to agree an overall goal for the work, for example that he develops the capacity
to engage constructively and collaboratively with the strategic director.

I would then want us to agree how we would work together to achieve it. This is likely to include supporting Paul in expressing his feelings, examining how they have been driving his thinking thus far. The aim would be to help Paul make sense of his defensive reactions, freeing him up to make better-informed choices, resulting in a more generative and constructive engagement.

This is likely to be challenging for Paul as his status and reputation are on the line. Beneath the anger will be more difficult feelings of shame or anxiety. As his coach I would seek to establish a relationship that was safe enough for Paul to articulate how he felt, enabling him to report the feelings rather than inflict them on people. I would invite him to reflect on the effect of this on our co-created relationship: what happens when he shares his vulnerability with me and how do I react?

Over time Paul may then feel ready to initiate a conversation with the strategic director, adult to adult, in a way that shifted the dynamic from passive-aggressive avoidance to openness, curiosity and mutual respect.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply