Ways of Working with Self-Esteem in Coaching

October 26, 2012  |   Coaching Latest News   |     |   0 Comment

This article is the last of four academic pieces on the implications of the different theories of self-esteem for Executive Coaching.  Here I look at the different ways in which a coach might support a client with a self-esteem issue. The references for all four articles are contained at the end of this one.


Using the Coaching Relationship

Rogers (2008) describes an effective coaching relationship as one where the coach provides unconditional positive acceptance, empathy and acts in an authentic and congruent way.  Mruk (1999) agrees that these attitudes are important in effective self-esteem programmes.  Hindmarch (2008) reports that coaching clients found the positive and supportive role of the coach a significant factor in helping them overcome self-doubt.  In my experience these relational factors underpin effective coaching, however where self-esteem is an underlying or explicit issue, perhaps their importance is magnified.  It would appear that a relationship with these attitudes may in itself be developmental for those with self-esteem issues (Mruk, 1999).


A Cognitive Approach

Mruk (1999) describes a self-esteem programme that includes a cognitive behavioural element that enables clients to identify irrational thinking patterns and cognitive distortions. It also has elements designed to raise self-awareness and where necessary build competence (e.g. problem solving skills).  There are references in the coaching literature to many of the aspects of this programme for example Peltier (2001) describes the value of the cognitive behavioural approach, Whitmore (2002) explains how to raise awareness and Zeus and Skiffington (2002) provide techniques for problem solving.  This would indicate that coaches have available to them the approaches to equip them to support clients with self-esteem difficulties.


A Model for use in Coaching

Bachkirova (2004) provides what appears to be one of the few models designed for working with self-esteem or self-confidence in coaching.  It starts with an exploration of any discrepancy between the ideal self and self-image.  The model incorporates five strategies for considering an appropriate future development path.  I have used this model with a client and it was beneficial because it did not feel in anyway threatening (e.g. by exploring areas of vulnerability) to the client, and it provided positive choices for the way in which the client may wish to develop in future.  Maxwell and Bachkirova (2009) caution that goal and achievement based coaching may serve to emphasise a perceived gap between expectation and ability and may therefore be damaging to self-esteem. Maxwell and Bachkirova also comment that global or base levels of self-esteem may be difficult to shift but that temporary fluctuations caused by events and circumstances may be amenable to a coaching approach.




Tony Goddard



Bachkirova, T. (2004) ‘Dealing with issues of the self-concept and self-improvement strategies in coaching and mentoring’, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 29-40.


Baumeister, R. (1999) ‘The Nature and Structure of the Self: An Overview’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) The Self in Social Psychology. Philadelphia: Psychology Press. pp. 1-20.


Baumeister, R., Tice, D. And Boden, J. (1999) ‘Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) The Self in Social Psychology. Philadelphia: Psychology Press. pp. 240-279.


Baumeister, R., Tice, D. and Hutton, D. (1989) ‘Self-Presentational Motivations and Personality Differences in Self-Esteem’, Journal of Personality, Vol. 57, No. 3, pp. 547-579.


Baumeister, R., Campbell, J., Krueger, J. and Vohs, K. (2003) ‘Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?’, Psychological Science In The Public Interest, Vol. 4, No. 1,  pp. 1-44.


Blaine, B. and Crocker, J. (1993) ‘Self-Esteem and Self-Serving Biases in Reactions to Positive and Negative Events an Integrative Review’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. New York: Plenum Press. pp. 55-83.


Bluckert, P. (2006) Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Brockner, J. and Guare, J. (1983) ‘Improving the Performance of Low Self-Esteem Individuals: An Attributional Approach’, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 642-656.


Brown, K., Ryan, R. and Cresswell, J. D. (2007) ‘Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence for its Salutary Effects’, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 211–237.


Campbell, J. (1999) ‘Self-Esteem and Clarity of the Self-Concept’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) The Self in Social Psychology. Philadelphia: Psychology Press. pp. 223-239.


Campbell, J. and Lavallee, L. (1993) ‘Who Am I? The Role of Self-Concept Confusion in Understanding the Behaviour of People with Low Self-Esteem’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. New York: Plenum Press. pp. 3-20.


Corey, G. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 6th ed. California: Brookes/Cole.


Crocker, J. (2002) ‘The Costs of Seeking Self-Esteem’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 58, No. 3, pp. 597-615.


Crocker, J. and Knight, K. (2005) ‘Contingencies of Self-Worth’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 200-203.


Emler, N. (2001) The Costs and Causes of Low Self-Esteem [Online]. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrieved from:http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/n71.pdf


Heatherton, T. And Wyland, C. (2003) ‘Why Do People Have Self-Esteem?’, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 38-41.


Hedman, A. (2001) ‘The Person-Centered Approach’. In: B. Peltier The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application. New York: Brunner-Routledge.


Heppner, W. and Kernis, M. (2007) ‘”Quiet Ego” Functioning: The Complementary Roles of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Secure High Self-Esteem’, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 248-251.


Hindmarch, L. (2008) ‘An exploration of the experience of self-doubt in the coaching context and the strategies adopted by coaches to overcome it’, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Special Issue No. 2, pp. 1-13.


Kernis, M. (2003) ‘Toward a Conceptualisation of Optimal Self-Esteem’, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 1-26.


Kernis, M. (2005) ‘Measuring Self-Esteem in Context: ‘The Importance of Self-Esteem in Psychological Functioning’, Journal of Personality, Vol. 73, No. 6, pp. 1-37.


Maxwell, A. and Bachkirova, T. (2009) Applying Psychological Theories of Self-Esteem in Coaching Practice [Online]. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University. Retrieved from: https://vle.brookes.ac.uk/webct/urw/lc102116011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct


McMahon, G. and Rosen, A. (2009) ‘Narcissism at Work’, Training Journal (UK), June, pp. 64-67.


Mruk, C. (1999) Self-Esteem: Research, Theory and Practice. London: Free Association Books.


Peltier, B. (2001) The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application. New York: Brunner-Routledge.


Pierce, J., Gardner, D., Dunham, R. and Cummings, L. (1993) ‘Moderation by Organization-Based Self-Esteem of Role Condition-Employee Response Relationships’, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 271-288.


Rogers, C. (1967) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable & Company Ltd.


Rogers, J. (2008) Coaching Skills: A Handbook. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Rosenberg, M., Schooler, C., Schoenbach, C. and Rosenberg, F. (1995) ‘Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes’, American Sociological Review, Vol. 60, No. 1, pp.141-156.


Ryan, M. and Brown, K. (2003) ‘Why We Don’t Need Self-Esteem: On Fundamental Needs, Contingent Love And Mindfulness’, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 71-76.


Strauss, J. (2005) ‘Multi-source perspectives of self-esteem, performance ratings, and source agreement’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 6, pp. 464-482.


Tice, D. (1993) ‘The Social Motivations of People with Low Self-Esteem’. In: R. Baumeister (ed.) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. New York: Plenum Press. pp. 37-53.


Whitmore, J. (2002) Coaching for Performance. 3rd ed. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.


Zeus, P and Skiffington, S. (2002) The Coaching at Work Toolkit: A Complete Guide to Techniques and Practices. North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill Australia.






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