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A Coaching Approach to Assessing Executive Stress

Organisation Studies

Speaker:Caroline Rook, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy and Thomas Hellwig, INSEAD, France
Date: Thursday 25 April 2013
Time: 5pm
Location: Matrix Lecture Theatre, Building One

Further details

Prominent cases of fatigue in leaders (e.g. Antonio Horta-Osorio, CEO of Lloyds Banking Group; Florent-Treacy & Manzoni, 2012; Ton Buechner; CEO of AkzoNobel; Steinglass, 2012) highlight that tackling executive stress is urgent. The health of executives has a major impact on the performance of organisations (Quick, Cooper, Gavin, & Quick, 2008). Sickness absence of a leader can lead to performance loss of an organisation amongst for example through the loss of confidence of staff and investors in a leader (Florent-Treacy & Manzoni, 2012). It has also been shown that demands in executive jobs and resulting stress have an influence on leadership decisions and behaviour (Hambrink, Finkelstein, & Mooney, 2005; Ganster, 2005). However, it is hard to determine stress levels of executives as there is a “taboo of executive stress” (Florent-Treacy & Manzoni, 2012): Leaders need to or want to seem strong, never showing a sign of pressure. It is challenging to assess executive stress issues through questionnaires or clinical interviews because of impression management and limited personal disclosure of executives around their stress issues. However, executive coaches are often faced with issues around executive stress and currently do not have a way to assess stress levels and discuss stress management effectively.

The aim of this interactive colloquium is to share our insights on executive stress and to get feedback on a coaching conversation protocol for assessing executive stress levels we are currently developing. This coaching conversation protocol utilises a psychodynamic approach to assessing stress. Such an approach has the advantage of being able to address the complexities of issues around the stress experience and stress management particularly in organisations as with this approach processes that underlie individual and collective human behaviour are identified (Kets de Vries, 2004).

During the colloquium, we would like to open up the topic of executive stress and share experiences and thoughts around workplace stress with you. We will share our first insights from early phases of the development of our protocol in terms of what areas a psychodynamic stress protocol should address and how the respondent’s information could be interpreted through a psychodynamic lense in order to create a stress assessment. We will also share our first insights into the face validity of the approach the instrument uses. These insights were gained through feedback from executive coaches. Furthermore, we are especially looking forward to hearing your ideas, experiences and thoughts around issues of stress in the workplace.



Caroline Rook, INSEAD, INSEAD Dutch Alumni Research Fellow

Caroline’s research investigates well-being in organisations, executive stress and issues of coaching and well-being. She is currently working on a number of projects which include the development of a psychodynamically influenced stress test for executives and the analysis of 360-degree feedback data gained from two INSEAD executive development programmes. Caroline has been involved in well-being research for some years. Her PhD research at the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter Business School, UK (2009-2012) investigated the relationships between well-being, authenticity and social identity in organizations. She is currently writing-up her PhD thesis.

Caroline completed a five year degree in Psychology at the University of Jena, Germany, in 2009, with majors in Organizational/Industrial Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Communication Psychology. She worked in different academic environments as a research assistant in the Department of Communication Science and as a tutor in the Department of Psychology, both at the University of Jena. She also experienced different national and academic working cultures by committing to an exchange year at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK and attending summer schools at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, the Hogeschool Utrecht, Netherlands and the University of Essex, UK.




Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, INSEAD, Associate Director and Lecturer, INSEAD Executive Degree Programmes

Originally from California, Liz has lived and worked in France for over twenty years. She supervises executive MA theses, and her lectures on research methodology focus on self-efficacy and psychological safety as essential components of research project design.
Liz also leads a team of researchers who take a clinical approach to the exploration of leadership in organizations, executive group coaching, and experiential learning in leadership development executive education programs. In addition, the research team develops 360° leadership survey instruments for use in executive coaching for individuals, teams, and organizations; creating innovative content and methods for leadership development modules and programs. Liz presents leadership development research in her role as a guest lecturer in selected INSEAD executive programs, and at top academic and practitioner conferences (Academy of Management; International Leadership Association; European Mentoring and Coaching Conference; and in IGLC and the European School of Management and Technology conferences on leadership development and executive coaching, for which she has also served as a conference co-convener). Liz also works as an Executive Coach in the areas of leadership development and family business, and is trained in group coaching. Liz has written 25 case studies on leadership or family business topics, six of which have won top case writing awards (European Case Clearing House and European Foundation for Management Development). She has co-authored or authored 25 articles, working papers and book chapters. She has co-authored six books on leadership development and family business topics which have been translated into several languages. The most recent are Tricky Coaching (2011), The Coaching Kaleidoscope (2010); Coach and Couch (2008); and Family Business on the Couch (2007).


Thomas Hellwig, INSEAD, Adjunct Professor of Leadership, INSEAD Global Leadership Centre Coaching Practice Director

Dr Thomas Hellwig, adjunct professor at INSEAD, works as an independent consultant, executive coach and a programme director for INSEAD and three other leading business schools. He has been associated with the leadership centre for more than five years. He is a trained physician with a doctorate in psychotherapy (University of Leipzig/Germany) and an MBA from INSEAD. As a medical doctor (cardiology, cancer, paediatrics and emergency) with the experience of working for more than a decade in some of the leading European hospitals, Thomas leverages his insights from leading high-performing medical teams in stressful situations. As an executive coach he has been working with senior executives for more than five years, individually and in groups. Furthermore, he coordinates health and wellness sections for top-management in executive programmes.
His recent teaching and research focus on change management (team and organisational dynamics), coaching effectiveness and health & stress management. At INSEAD he has also carried out several research projects with Prof Kets de Vries and is a regular presenter at International Leadership Conferences.