Eight Case Studies in Executive Coaching – Center for Executive Coaching

Following are case study samples members discuss during our program:

Case Study One: Lack of Market Acceptance

You are concerned because your executive coaching practice is not growing the way you hoped it would.

You have positioned yourself as a “leadership development coach” who works with managers and executives to help them become better leaders.

For some reason, executives at companies are not responding well to the services you are offering.


1. Why might you be getting the lukewarm reaction that you are getting?

2. How can you position “leadership development” in a more compelling way that will get prospects to care?

3. How can you get visible with your message in a way that decision makers will take notice and think of you first when they have a need?

Case Study Two: Dealing with politics and one’s power base

You are working with an ambitious manager. He has hired you because he wants to know how to move some of his ideas for his unit forward.

His complaint is that he has lots of great ideas, but he is having trouble getting the ear of his two managers. Both of them have 10 reports each, and this manager’s department represents maybe 1% of their total budget.

At the same time, you sense that this manager is perceived as a “loose cannon” due to his enthusiasm and desire to push forward new ideas in an organization that is conservative and bureaucratic by nature.


1. Can you help this manager be more successful, or is your advice that he needs to be patient and cope with the fact that his unit simply lacks the political clout needed to be as visible and powerful as he would like?

2. Assuming the manager wanted you to speak to his two managers, what would you ask during your time with those managers?

Case Study Three: Structuring work

The executive director of a regional non-profit agency contacts you because she is concerned that there is confusion about roles and responsibilities between her and her Board Chair.

She wants to hire you to ensure that there is a clear understanding of who does what and who is accountable for which results.


1. What questions can you ask to set the stage for a value-based price rather than an hourly price?

2. How would you structure this kind of engagement?

Case Study Four: Doing the CEO’s dirty work

You are working with a large health system to coach executives and managers about performance improvement. Your compensation for this work is outstanding. The project is fascinating and you can make a huge difference in a struggling hospital network.

The only problem is that the CEO — your client — is a bit of a “control freak” who wants to be sure that you get the “right” results for his direct reports. He often tells you what he wants his managers to conclude, and expects you to use your coaching skills to help them reach those conclusions — on their own.

For instance, he may have a specific idea about how to merge two departments and is not particularly open to other alternatives. He expects you to “coach” the two department heads to reach his conclusions, without appearing to be leading them to a specific outcome that he wants. He then wants these department heads to recommend these ideas to him, as if they were their own ideas.

You feel uncomfortable being put in this position, but the engagement is extremely lucrative and important work.


1. How do you handle this issue?

2. What if the CEO will not change his expectations of what you can/will do for him?

3. In general, when do you stop working with a client?

Case Study Five: Free consulting

The CEO of a start up venture calls you and seems quite excited to hire you. He is launching a new proprietary health care product and believes he is going to make a fortune. However, he needs some business coaching in some areas where you are an expert.

On the first call, you agree on rates and he gives verbal agreement to move forward.

Then he proceeds to call you three more times asking you for advice about current situations you are facing. He promises he will hire you next week and adds, “you can call any of my current vendors, who will tell you I pay my bills.”

Finally he calls you Monday of the next week and says, “I’m just putting some finishing touches on my financial projections. Can you give me some advice? Then we can move forward…”


1. Have you already given away too much “free consulting,” or is this how it works?

2. Should you answer his questions and give him advice one last time?

3. How can executive coaches demonstrate their credibility and value without giving free advice/coaching/consulting?

Case Study Six: Value based pricing

Following are some cases that involve pricing based on value and not on an hourly or daily rate:

Part A:

You are in negotiations with a prospect. Everything seems to be going well and there appears to be a good fit.

The prospect asks, “Tell me your hourly rate.”


1. How can you shift the conversation to a value-based pricing conversation instead of an hourly conversation?

2. What if the prospect doesn’t “get it” and still insists on an hourly price?

Part B:

A prospective client clearly understands that your value is in excess of six figures per year to him. However, he is a bit concerned that you are only spending a few hours per month in exchange for your very high fees.

Question: How do you answer this objection in order to stick with value-based pricing?

Part C:

An HR manager from a large corporation calls you and says, “I love your website. We have a need for some coaches. Right now, I’m collecting information and would appreciate a one-page bio from you along with your hourly rate.”

Question: If you are committed to a value-based pricing strategy, how do you handle this situation?

Part D:

You are in discussions with a prospect who is a sales executive in a large cosmetics firm. Her results are fantastic, but she has been referred to you because she has a tendency to be a “bull in a china shop,” alienating her direct reports by being a bit too blunt and brash. She wonders how she can maintain her results while doing a better job nurtuing relationships.


What questions will you ask her to set the stage for a value pricing model?

Part E:

You are working with an investment banker, who wishes to hire you to help the executives in his investment portfolio be more effective. He specializes in taking small companies public through a mechanism known as reverse mergers. In this financial structure, an existing private company merges into a publicly traded “shell.” Done right, this situation allows people to more easily raise capital and also trade shares in the company.

This presents a wonderful opportunity for you, since you can now take some of your compensation in the form of shares/equity. It is a risky proposition, since most companies that do reverse mergers fail. However, some succeed beyond anyone’s expectations.


1. How would you go about coming to terms with this client/referral source?

2. When should you think about taking equity (and not) for your work?

3. If you are new to the idea of equity participation as a coach/consultant, how can you market your services to attract these kinds of opportunities?

Case Study Seven: The hapless manager

You are working with a highly technical CEO of a systems integration firm. He is a brilliant software consultant who has built firm that grew to 25 people and $10 million based largely on his own reputation in the field.

However, now his firm is floundering due to an industry slowdown. Sales have disappeared. His own personal net worth has dropped to almost nothing!

He has hired you because, as he says, “I don’t think my people are accountable.” He is worried that nobody is listening to or meeting his expectations — and that no one has the same sense of urgency he does. He feels especially uncomfortable about accountability for business development, and has gone through a number of sales managers who have not delivered for him.

You interview his direct reports and discover that, from their perspective:

1. He is extremely uncomfortable giving tough feedback.

2. He doesn’t set explicit expectations, and expects people to read his mind.

3. In their view, he should focus on technology and client service, and hire an administrator to run the firm.

4. Sales managers leave because the CEO has no understanding of the business development process and does not know the right processes to set up or the right questions to ask.

5. He focuses on too many minor things and details, and needs instead to focus on the most important priorities in his firm. For instance, he sometimes gets too wrapped up in correcting grammatical errors on emails from employees.

You work with the CEO to put in place some standards, a process, and a common language for assessing business development activities.

However, no matter what kind of skill development or coaching you do, the CEO continues to be “helpless” and “hapless” as you try to help him learn how to have tough conversations, hold people accountable, and focus on true priorities. Meanwhile, business is not picking up and the CEO is in a panic.


1. What do you do when it seems like a client just won’t “get it?”

2. How would you proceed in this situation?

Case Study Eight: Personal vs. organizational coaching

You are working with a senior administrator in a University setting. While he has made the decision to hire you, the University is paying for the coaching. He is a fantastic client — smart, coachable, pleasant.

You are working on two primary issues related to his organization:

1. How to commercialize some technology developed in his department.

2. How to create a more entrepreneurial culture.

At the same time, you also discuss his career aspirations in the future. As you listen, you get the idea that his interests and career aspirations would best be served outside the University. However, he seems reluctant to come to this conclusion, perhaps because he has been in the University for over 30 years and may not even know the opportunities that exist for him, perhaps because he is afraid of what lies outside the University’s walls.


1. Is it appropriate for you to suggest that he look outside the University for his next opportunity?

2. Is it even appropriate to discuss personal, career issues when the University is the ultimate “client”?

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