The Trusted Leadership Advisor (TLA): A Next Wave for Executive Coaching


by Karol M. Wasylyshyn

After 30-plus years of executive-coaching practice, here’s what I see: a field poised to achieve its next level of influence—especially in work with top leaders of both commercial and charitable organizations throughout the world. We have arrived at an inevitable inflection point. The wave is here—a portent of possibility powered by more than three decades of vibrant and value-added coaching outcomes thus far.

But here’s my concern: that we’ll let this wave pass. That we’ll be distracted or be de-motivated by issues such as commoditization, the rise of company-based coaching programs, and other competitive forces. Or we’ll get stuck in just doing whatever we’ve been doing. Or that we’ll lose sight of our distinctive value proposition instead of using it to propel our most concerted efforts to innovate and to persist. We must jump this wave and intensify the impact of executive coaching—especially its powerful after-effects. After-effects? 

Yes, sustained after-effects. This next wave is not about doing more of the same. It’s about senior coaches transitioning from the executive-coach role to that of trusted leadership advisor, or TLA (Wasylyshyn, 2015).In this role, the TLA leverages initial coaching engagements by using these lessons and insights to ensure clients’ ongoing leadership effectiveness. These lessons and insights are now applied more aggressively in longer term work with clients—clients who recognize how this ongoing consultation is central in their ability to grapple with the complexity, ambiguity, and intensity of their leadership roles.

In short, I offer the concept of the trusted leadership advisor (TLA)as a major next wave in the field of executive coaching—a significant advance for senior practitioners with exponential after-effects for their clients, as well as for the growth of the organizations they lead.  Further, I suggest that the credibility, commitment, and high impact of TLA’s—especially in terms of catalyzing clients’ integration of the what and the how aspects of leadership—will have positive cascading effects for coaches working at all organization levels.

What is a TLA? I define the TLAas a senior leadership-development consultant who, after the completion of a successful executive-coaching engagement, has been invited by the client to continue their working relationship. Typically, these leaders are at the corporate level, may hold P&L responsibility for major business units, or are senior functional leaders (e.g., finance, IT, human resources, marketing). This ongoing work is focused on leveraging development progress made in the coaching and on ensuring the leader’s continued effectiveness. This relationship—based on mutual trust, respect, and strong chemistry—may unfold over many years and even throughout the full tenure of a CEO, for example. (For a comparison of the executive-coach and TLA roles, see Wasylyshyn, 2015, p. 284.)

What are the key criteria for being a TLA? I would suggest that the top criteria for success as a TLA include:

  • Integration of the behavioral sciences with business acumen and understanding of organization systems and power dynamics
  • Significant experience—at least a decade—of coaching C-level and high-potential leaders
  • Ability to form collaborative partnerships with clients’ bosses and HR professionals, thus ensuring the necessary “collateral flow” of relevant information and observations regarding the client
  • Ability to manage appropriate boundaries of confidentiality
  • An integrated practice model (Wasylyshyn, 2017, p. 2)
  • Exquisite presence, that is, ability to meet the client where the client needs to be met (Wasylyshyn, 2015)

How does the TLA work? My work with senior business leaders is based on an integrated practice model focused on three factors: (1) the identification of and responding to the client’s state of presencein a meeting (crucible, sanctuary, and personal harmony), (2) the use of model agilityin responding to clients (cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, positive psychology, and developmental), and (3) specific actions informed by four practice dimensions(echo, anchor, mirror, and spark).This sequence of TLA actions may be repeated a number of times in a client meeting.  (For detailed information about this integrated practice model see Wasylyshyn, 2017.)

What about the future for TLAs? Given the relentlessness and uncertainty of twenty-first century business dynamics, the TLA stands as a kind of psychological oasis. As I wrote recently (Wasylyshyn, 2017), “In the intimacy, safety, and long-term nature of these distinctive relationships, senior executives are guided, affirmed, constructively challenged, and comforted, too as they strive to meet business objectives in a world that has become increasingly uncertain. This uncertainty is fueled by economic, geopolitical, sociological, technological, and perhaps even terrorist factors that will not abate” (p.  24).

Further, talented high-potential leaders will be promoted sooner into roles for which they’re equipped technically but less so in terms of possessing the gravitas and other behavioral aspects of effective leadership. Based on my experience, “they can stumble badly because they have simply not had enough time on the planet nor sufficient mentoring to be fully effective leaders. In the constancy of relationships with their trusted leadership advisor, they should flourish as they learn how to integrate their passion for innovation and value creation with the hard lessons of how to lead people well” (Wasylyshyn, 2015, p. 240).

Undoubtedly, the future for TLAs abounds with opportunity because for many of their clients the initial coaching experience was the catalytic beginning of the odyssey called executive leadership. It was a pivotal prelude for the rest of the journey that the TLA can anchor in the client’s most proactive self-awareness and commitment to lead well. To realize this future, current and aspiring TLAs must focus their most certain and courageous efforts to lead leaders well. We must remain committed to both ensuring our clients’ success and to more executive coaches transitioning into the TLA role. We must put on our wet suits—lest we let this wave pass.

Further Reading

These ideas about the Trusted Leadership Advisor have been developed in my latest book, Destined to Lead, and in two articles in Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research.

Click the link below to access my book:

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2014). Destined to lead: Executive coaching and lessons for leadership development. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Click the links below to access an electronic copy of the articles in APA’s psycnet database. (Access requires a subscription, or you can purchase individual articles.)

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2017). From here to certainty: Becoming CEO and how a trusted leadership advisor (TLA) helped the client get there. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(1), 1 – 25.

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2015). The trusted leadership advisor: Another view from the bridge between business and psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 67(4), 279 – 297.

Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research publishes evidence-based articles that advance the body of professional knowledge and expertise for providing psychologically-based services to improve organizations and the people who work in them. It is a unique peer-reviewed journal; CPJ articles meet scientific standards for rigor and support, but are also readable, practical, and actionable.

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