The kind of client that all executive coaches adore is the high flier who is totally up for learning: cheerful and realistic about themselves.
Of course such clients hit setbacks, crises and disappointments, but can accept that to a large extent we are all the authors of our own fates.
The kind of client any coach dreads is the one who is fixed on the role of victim.
Such clients may see victimhood everywhere. If their careers are stymied, then the organisation is to blame for not appreciating their heroic qualities. A poor performer in their team is at fault for potentially wrecking the client's reputation. If only their own partner were not so selfish it would be possible to get the development or job move that would be liberating - and so on. If there are reported performance problems, then the feedback is "biased", "stupid" or "malicious" and given by people who don't understand the subtleties of the client's work. These clients nurse their slights.
Celebrities are not immune from this. Misery memoirs abound, explaining how the alcoholism, weight problems or drug addiction were directly caused by the sins of parents. Former deputy prime minister John Prescott's recent autobiography Prezza gave us detailed insight into the anguish this frame of mind can cause. Mr Prescott is still able to summon up an ocean of distress as he recalls not getting the bike his Dad promised if had passed the 11-plus. Despite his astounding achievement for a working class lad from Hull, he is "excluded" from then prime minister Tony Blair's inner circle; even the Queen lets him down by lowering her voice during a visit, so that John the republican must bend down to hear her, thus appearing to be bowing.
When a coach looks into the early childhood of such clients, they usually find a dominant and controlling parent whose emotional problems and disappointments were visited on their children. The household was probably rigidly organised and the children constantly criticised. It is impossible to win approval in such a household. Parent figures may seem cold - or just too preoccupied with their own fights to offer affection. The client grows up feeling incompetent, unlovable and that "it's not fair".
The result is adults who are terrified of accepting responsibility for themselves. It is easier to blame others in the hope of creating guilt, of manipulating, or just denying reality.
A colleague reports working with such a client, whose organisation had made it clear that coaching was a last chance to change before an exit was inevitable. But the client refused to accept that it was his own behaviour triggering the painfully hostile responses he was getting from colleagues. It was their fault for being "thick" or "pernickety". This coaching did not have a happy ending.
Can anything be done for such clients? Occasionally I will try the last-chance question I learned from the great Irvin Yalom, author of The Gift of Therapy. "OK. Let's accept that 99 per cent of this is other people's fault. What's the 1 per cent that's yours?"