Unfolding executive coaches’ identity work through the social constructivist lens: Coach, Coachee and Organization

Yi Ling Lai
Jonathan Passmore


This study responds to a recent call on coaches’ professional identity work through a socially contextualized lens.Coaches, as the freelancer, encounter complex working relationships with clients due to multiple contracting entities; yet coaches’ identity work has been neglected in the extant training and development courses. A total of 36semi-structured interviews with coaches and relational others (e.g., coachees and organizational stakeholders) were conducted to understand how coaches develop professional identity as part of their career development in responding to interactions with relational others. The research findings identify that learning facilitator is the core identity of coaches regardless of varied stages of the coaching process. Three layers of sub-identity are distinguished for them to handle a multi-level working relationship with clients. Coaches often ‘travel’ in-and-out between layers of these sub-identities to incorporate micro personal career interests, meso-coaching dyadic working relationships and the macro-level organizational scope into their identity development and negotiation. Accordingly, coaches’ learning agility is required to remain identity flexibility for coping with varied coaching scenarios. This study outlines a conceptual framework which illustrates coaches’ identity work as a conscious cognitive learning process embedded social and psychological exchanges. This framework offers coaching professional development courses a ground work to facilitate coaches’ identity development.

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