By |Published On: November 28th, 2019|Categories: Evidence Based Coaching|

EBC Blog: On Coaching Abrasive Leaders: Dealing with Defensiveness

Guest Blogger:  Laura Crawshaw, PhD, BCC, President, The Executive Insight Development Group, Founder, The Boss Whispering Institute,,,

Abrasive leaders rub their coworkers the wrong way. These executives, managers, and professionals (including physicians and attorneys) who engage in interpersonally aggressive behavior (also known as workplace bullying) exact a high price in terms of both employee emotional distress and costs to the organization. At the same time, employers feel helpless to intervene, especially when dealing with an abrasive leader whose technical expertise is of critical importance to the organization.

I first encountered the phenomenon of abrasive leadership back in the 1980’s, when I worked as an Employee Assistance counselor in Alaska’s very first EAP. As I listened to the suffering of individuals who worked with or under them, two questions arose: Why would bosses treat their coworkers this way, and why didn’t employers do anything to intervene? After opening my coaching practice in 1994, I started getting referrals to work with “difficult” leaders. Equipped only with my training as clinical social worker and my curiosity, I listened carefully to my clients – they were my greatest teachers. Through trial and (many!) errors, I started to respond to these individuals in ways that led them to abandon their abrasive styles.

My journey of discovery continued at Fielding, where I determined to answer the question of “What the heck am I doing and why is working anyway? !!?”  Through analysis of my clients’ narratives, I was able to construct a conceptual framework that answered my question. This framework, described in my  doctoral dissertation (Coaching Abrasive Executives: Exploring the Use of Empathy in Constructing Less Destructive Interpersonal Management Strategies, 2005), became the foundation for the Boss Whispering coaching method, led to my book, (Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace; Jossey-Bass, 2007)  and the establishment of The Boss Whispering Institute in 2009.

Dedicated to research and training, the Institute’s mission is to relieve suffering in the workplace caused by abrasive leaders. I am pleased to share my findings with you, as I believe executive coaches are perfectly positioned to offer a solution to workplace bullying through the specialty practice of coaching abrasive leaders. I will discuss this coaching method, which incorporates action research and concepts derived from evolutionary psychology, emotional intelligence theory, and my subsequent research. Attendees will gain insight into why bosses bully, how to distinguish an abrasive leader from other types (e.g. adequate, irritating, avoidant and aberrant executives) and how to quickly establish a trusting coaching alliance. The presentation will cover specific techniques to overcome characteristic client defensiveness, develop awareness, and help abrasive leaders relinquish their destructive management styles in favor of interpersonally productive strategies. Even coaches who elect not to coach abrasive executives will benefit from learning how to defuse client defensiveness encountered with their non-abrasive clients.

Evidence Based Coaching (EBC) Thought Leaders Webinar:  On Coaching Abrasive Leaders: Dealing with Defensiveness

Watch now on YouTube at

Speaker:  Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., BCC, President, The Executive Insight Development Group

Founder, The Boss Whispering Institute,,,

Host:  Terry H. Hildebrandt, PhD, MCC, MCECDirector of Evidence Based Coaching, Fielding Graduate University

About Laura Crawshaw, PhD, BCC

An alumna of Fielding Graduate University, Laura Crawshaw, PhD, BCC specializes in researching and coaching abrasive leaders, serving an international clientele of organizations over the past forty years, including over 40 Fortune 500 companies and United Nations and NASA. She founded the Executive Insight Development Group, Inc. in 1994, the Boss Whispering Institute (dedicated to research and training in the specialty practice of coaching abrasive leaders) in 2009. Dr. Crawshaw’s book, Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace (Jossey-Bass Management Series), was released in 2007. Dr. Crawshaw speaks internationally, holding degrees in clinical social work and organizational systems. She has been a member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations, the American Psychological Association, the British Psychological Society, the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, the International Association on Bullying and Harassment at Work, and the International Coach Federation. She is also a Founding Fellow of Harvard’s Institute of Coaching.

For more on Fielding’s EBC Coach Training Program, see

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About the Author: Terry Hildebrandt

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