Hildebrand or Wegelin Bank: Is coaching useful for persons under public attack?

My answer to this question is an unmistakable YES. The question that remains is: Who should how supplement the consultant staff already in place for the support of these important persons under public attack? How can coaching make a difference among all the existing guidance and mentoring? In this article I show, how von Guttenberg, Hildebrand, Wulf and other persons exposed to public criticism could have had more mental scope and space for action, had they made use of the right coaching process at the right time.  

Let‘s start at the outset: Charismatic and powerful managers in the public cross-fire theoretically could relay on their existing group of counsellors to cope with this crisis. Strategy consultants, members of task forces, quality circles, friends, mentors, management trainers, lawyers are already in place. Once their client is overexposed to public criticism – unfortunately – they tend to feel helpless. Out of the blue irrational things appear to happen: Where previously coping was easy by approaching the problem with logic and ratio, in the present crisis the normal problem analysis, the assessment of rational options, the monitoring of decisions, or the checking of consequences seem not to provide the required feeling and aura of integrity as they did before. What is going on in such situations?

The first blow hits like a shock or a stab in the back. Without prior announcement a person like Hildebrand sees himself flatfootedly exposed to severe accusations and charges. Unprepared he is required to respond to critical questions from journalists, politicians, and the larger public. Under such conditions human beings show natural shock reactions in three bio-social systems. These are:

  • Reactions of immobilization, for example to feign death, to black out, or to switch off all perceivable behavior;
  • Spontaneous activities of the mobilization system: Flee and/or fight behavior; and
  • Activities in the social contact system.

To blows of accusation we tend to react almost automatically within these three modes . And, in fact, for the past few thousand years this has saved human beings from being killed or from being isolated. Nevertheless one has to be aware of the fact that these spontaneous reactions are largely out of the control of our rational brain. It is difficult to influence them by simple intention. It is actually an unconscious or subconscious neurobiological motivational system. The persons are not doing what they are doing on purpose. It’s an adaptation to a situation that their nervous system has evaluated as dangerous. The question is, how do we get us out of feeling threatened? Traditional strategies would be to reason with these persons, to tell them they are not in a dangerous situation, to negotiate with them, to reinforce them, to punish them if they don‘t respond as directed. In other words, we try to get the behavior under control. But this approach doesn’t work very well with these reactions, because they appear to be driven by the body’s visceral state. Our current knowledge leads us to a better approach.

Wulff, Hildebrand and others tend to freeze their body-mind system, to sit the crisis out and wait, while they are overwhelmed by ideas of fight and flight. Also they have lost contact with the social ground they have grown on, and their social role is no more attuned to the actual challenges. Many of these fallen angels in reality try to disappear abroad, for example as University Teachers in the US. Just to repeat it: Essentially these are normal and healthy reactions. But to manage the crisis such a reactive set of actions is not very supportive. It leads to irrational behavior making everything worse.  What can be done with coaching to help a person get back to a rational action mode controlling his life?

Innovative approaches are needed. All processes supporting the information processing in the mind-body system provide the opportunity to get rid of stress and pressure remains. By applying such methods the system is de-frozen and the river of information starts to flow again. The person regains his flexibility and inner maneuverability, his mental vigor, and alertness. As the attacked person cannot go on in the society as he did before,   the person has to reflect his role in the system simultaneously through a systemic coaching method, for example mapping or constellations.  This means to start with a limbic coaching method and then to align with a freshly emerging social role. Once the basic stress is re-processed, the accused person can go on to use the headwind for his own advance and take a benefit of the difficulties. In this phase coaching apply coaching tools such as the active-alert hypnosis to induce a state of positive trance, a kind of runner’s high. The energy of the resistance or the power of the aggression can now be used to fly higher and look at the accusations as a sportive challenge to be met playfully. By applying these three coaching methods (limbic coaching, role reflexion, and high flying) the previous crisis can be transformed into a great opportunity to step into a bright future.

As regards these approaches, future articles will inform you further.

Your Claude Ribaux








Coaching in Depth: The Organizational Role Analysis Approach. Newton et. al. (eds.). Karnac Books (2006). ISBN-10: 1855753286.

Coaching lessons learned from Roger Federer, Bandler, and Milton Erickson

You may have been watching Roger Federer playing with a sweet forehand on the tennis court, game after game. But then, have you ever seen Federer’s coach? Do you know the coach’s name? Now matter how often I have viewed a match with the tennis champion, it has been very seldom and unusual to get any information about a coach.

In this field, on this court Federer is the main person, nobody else. This remains absolutely clear all the times. Nevertheless it is a known fact that Federer makes regular use of coaching support. What did I learn from Federer’s use of coaching for my own coaching practice?  Lesson 1: The coach takes a back seat. He acts invisibly for external observers, and Lesson 2: For top players and executives coaching is applied for specific issues or clear objectives only. Lesson 3:  The world’s top sportsmen and the best leaders are using coaches for prevention as well as an instrument to stay among the best.

In contrast to such an approach my primary teacher used to collect the worst mistakes the students had made in essay writing. The idea was to facilitate the children to learn from fault finding.  In class 5 for example in an essay I had mistaken manager with teenager. Of course we laughed about this wholeheartedly. But did we learn how to write correctly this way? Richard Bandler is one of the founders of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). In his exceptional writings he opened my eyes for focusing on what really works, on studying what the best do instead of analysing the mistakes of the low performers. Learn from what is working not of what is not working. When, for example, because of fear the motivation level is declining before an examination, it is useful to find out under what circumstances the same person was able to cope with and overcome similar fear and lack of motivation, for instance while riding a horse. Therefore Lesson 4: Learn from what is working well already for you or at least for somebody else.

Maybe you have already discovered that the things we want to happen do not usually happen the way we are pushing them to happen. But then, the moment we let go the previously desired outcome, all at once it flies back to us. Milton Erickson, one of the most exceptionally gifted therapists of the twentieth century, observed that people were not always open to external influences to the same degree. Like none other than him he succeeded in identifying precisely the moments, when his clients were most receptive to his inputs, thus provoking change easily. Conclusion and Lesson 5: Await the right moment, and then intervene softly.

So, my lessons learned from Federer, Bandler and Erickson for my coaching are: Stay in the back seat, and work for specific tasks only. Support the top performers to stay on the top. Teach how to focus on what works instead of what does not work.

What for do I write this blog?

With this blog I have the intention to share experiences and learnings from the field of coaching. Further on I like to answer to questions, and I will face discussions fuelled by readers’ comments. Real coaching cases should provide exposure to the daily business. In addition to this it is hoped to get a kind of feeling about actual or future coaching needs from readers of these articles.

How did I get to write such a blog?

Since 25 years – in the role of a leader or as a personal coach or mediator –  I have been supporting people to turn out their best and work happily in a state of flow. Obviously I learned a lot from all these hundreds of persons I worked with. As s sign of thank this experience should be made available to as many people as possible.


Claude André Ribaux

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