Existential Themes in Leadership An Exploration of the Experience of Women in Senior Management Roles within Large Organisations and the Potential Contribution of Existential Coaching in this Context William Byrne

William Byrne
Publication Date
01st Aug 2015
MA in Existential Coaching


Senior Managers work within the upper layers of the organisational hierarchy, navigating the political and organisational divide that separates the top level of management from those lower down in the organisation. In many organisations senior management is male-dominated and operates within a male culture and value system. The aim of this study is to explore the lived experience of female senior managers in order to better understand organisations, management and the specific challenges for women in these organisations.

Semi-structured interviews were held with three female senior managers, and the data produced were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Results highlight the complex inter-relational nature of management and the power culture of the male workplace at senior levels. Autonomy and challenge prove important for the participants. The conflicting demands of work and home also feature large in the participants’ day-to-day experience. The themes of power and gender provide a unifying thread through the participant narratives. The concept of senior manager as an “organisational self” is used to explore the ontological implications for the participants acting as the organisation whilst also seeking autonomy.

Implications for coaching are identified, including the challenge of the organisational context, the importance of recognising inter-relational aspects of management and considerations regarding coach-client relationships. The potential contribution of existential coaching is examined with reference to the research.

It is suggested that comparative research with male managers into the topic of senior management and leadership is needed. In addition it is suggested that further phenomenological research into leadership should adopt an interrelational stance and include both leaders and followers.

“The workplace carries so much of our desperate need for acknowledgement, for hierarchy, for reward, to be seen, and to be seen as we want to be seen”
David Whyte, 2001, p. 125