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Article on Tree of Executive Coaching by Elaine Patterson



from Elaine Patterson

I qualified as an Executive Coach with The OCM in 2006; going on to qualify as a Coach Supervisor with the Coaching Supervision Academy in 2009, and become accredited as an EMCC Master Practitioner in 2010. But my journey has never been about external labels but about finding a definition of coaching and a framework for coaching which expressed me, who I am and what I want my practice to offer my clients.

My wake up call came in 2008 when I was finally challenged by my supervisor who said “.. and so Elaine .. what is your model of practice? ” ..

Looking around I found that my library yielded some clues but not the whole picture.

And so I realised I needed to get out of my head and into my heart with what inspired and motivated me……. Looking up from my Studio window I discovered that it was actually my oak tree at the bottom of our garden, which had always energised and guided me whenever I needed to re–connect with the creative forces of spaciousness, imagination and inspiration.

Grabbing my sketch book I then started to design my own Tree of Practice with

  • the trees’ roots as a metaphor for anchoring me and my values;
  • the tree’s trunk as a metaphor for holding safe practice and
  • the tree’s branches as a metaphor for the contents of my coaching toolkit

I noticed from this I was starting to capture the essence, foundations and supports for my work.

I then started to scribble seeing :

  • the roots which feed and sustain the tree defined in coaching terms as finding our own centre, being fully present, being authentic, clarifying values and intent, and knowing ourselves
  • the trunk which acts as a conduit for nourishment, water and nutrients from soil defined in coaching terms as holding our practice. This includes for example our Code of Ethics; Contracting & Accountabilities; Process Tools; Competencies; Self Assessment, Feedback & Evaluation; Learning Logs & Reflective Practice; CPD & Supervision; Qualifications & Accreditations; and Membership of professional organisations and
  • the branches which give structure and shelter defined in coaching terms as our tools, processes and approaches. These include for example Appreciative Inquiry; Systemic Coaching; Psychological Mindedness; Theories of Change; Theories of Learning; and Creative approaches

And then I started to see beyond this to the potential which the framework could offer me in helping me to sense of my coaching practice; and then stepping back helping me to design my own CPD. I have since gone to to play with the framework as my defining approach to coaching supervision and leadership development.

A google search then made me appreciate the extent to which the tree is an ancient universal image of growth, strength and connectedness across many traditions. This is where trees are seen in various ways as connecting heaven & earth; of providing shelter; expressing through their appearance the changing seasons; providing for the vital exchange and flow of water, nutrients and gases for the air we breathe; as well as representing ancient symbols for wisdom, protection, bounty, beauty, heritage and redemption.

The distinctive features of the framework seemed to me to be:

  1. It is a holistic, flexible, multi dimensional model which is rooted in shared humanity and the philosophy of “who we are is how we coach.
  2. It provides a way of helping coaches to explore inter-relationships between all the different elements of our practice and helps coaches to forge their won signature styles.
  3. It respects and makes possible the integration of all the different schools and approaches to coaching embracing ancient traditions and new thinking.
  4. It provides a route map for understanding the coaching conversation
  5. It offers the practitioner a framework for reflection in action & on action
  6. It offers the practitioner a route map for their coach training, coach development and CPD; and possibly also accreditation.

I offer it to help practitioners to explore their own practice; to design their own trees or to discover new and different metaphors which expresses them and their practice.

The original Thought Piece plus a Workbook and a Resource Book are available and can be downloaded from or by post by emailing

I hope that the “Tree” inspires you in some way. I would love to hear your thoughts, reflections and stories from reading this article and the associated resources.

And a final thought from Marinoff (2004)

“A tree: It is unique, fractal, solid, flexible and very much alive. It has no prejudices or opinions. It knows no terror.
It takes root and holds down the very soil. It draws water from the earth. It fashions a leafy canopy, sun drenched above and shady below. It breathes. It is wondrous to behold. It harbours and shelters many life forms. Its sap flows. It bears fruit in it season.
After benefiting its environment it returns silently to the soil
to its origins. Can any human aspire to more….?”

Elaine Patterson
Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor

tel: +44 1895 635734