Macquarie University
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Executive Coaching in Strategic Holistic Leadership: The Drivers and Dynamics in Later Stage Vertical Development

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posted on 2022-12-05, 02:40 authored by Antoinette Braks

This is an empirical study of the vertical leadership development effects of an executive coaching program. It explores the Research Question: How might transformative executive coaching expedite vertical leadership development for strategic leaders? Executives at later stages of vertical development have been shown to be more effective leaders. An executive’s stage of vertical development is therefore a valuable measure of their potential leadership capacity. Executives at the developmental stage termed ‘Synergist’ (also named Strategist, Transforming) hold the capacity to transcend volatility, trust emergence and lead transformation in collaboration with diverse stakeholders to generate more sustainable, equitable outcomes. This level of leadership capacity is urgently needed in today’s disruptive, polarising world. It is two stages beyond today’s high performing competitive achiever. These two stages are termed ‘Catalyst’ (Individualist, Redefining), an individuation stage of authentic engagement, and Synergist, an integration stage of active evolution. While the proportion of executives at ‘Catalyst’ has been growing at the rate of 11% in each of the last two decades, the proportion of leaders at ‘Synergist’ has stalled at 8%, following incremental growth of just 1% in each of the last two decades. This statistical data suggests that contemporary leadership development programs are not adequate to enable the stage shift through to ‘Synergist’. In this multiple case study of transformative executive coaching, 100% of the nine strategic leaders shifted one or two stages to ‘Catalyst’ and ‘Synergist’ after an average of eight executive coaching sessions over 12 months. This contrasts with the common understanding that it takes five-six years to shift to the mature stage of ‘Synergist’. The thesis explains vertical leadership development as a ‘two-step square dance’ to accomplish a ‘spectrum stage shift’. It sets out an inductive thematic analysis of eight drivers that expedited vertical development to ‘Synergist’. The coaching was found to be highly effective due to the balance of strategic and holistic leadership, blending deep inner work such as setting aspirational intent and resolving shadow issues, with the outward courage to implement liberating processes and orchestrate engagement. The thesis goes on to explore the impact of the developmental drivers on the dynamics in the workplace in relation to holding psychologically safe and supportive respectful space. This leads to an emergent Vertical Development Theory based on the principles of Intention, Interaction and Integration. The thesis also explores the multifaceted nature of the transformative coaching approach as coach, mentor, counsellor, consultant, guide and companion, in relation to vertical leadership development, and identifies 25 distinctive shifts in coachee perception that contributed to later stage development. The research findings have significant implications for executive coaching and the design of advanced leadership development programs. It is recommended that 1. The effectiveness of coaching interventions is studied in relation to the type of coaching intervention, the stage of the executive coach and the vertical leadership development readiness of the coachee; 2. Researchers conduct deductive analysis of the capacity of Vertical Development Theory to expedite the development of strategic leaders to Synergist; 3. The executive coaching profession embrace a more expansive and inclusive definition of coaching; and that 4. Advanced leadership programs for strategic leaders include transformative executive coaching in vertical development with a later stage executive coach during and following programs to break through organisational inhibitors and integrate later stage development to Synergist.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. The Review of the Literature -- Chapter 3. The Research Methodology -- Chapter 4. The Research Findings -- Chapter 5. Discussion & Implications -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Claire Jankelson

Additional Supervisor 1

Steven Segal


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




262 pages