Sometimes, the circumstances do not allow leadership coaching to succeed. Leadership coaching efforts will fail if:

  • The changes the client seeks are not behavioral.
  • The client does not commit to change.
  • The organization uses coaching to get rid of an executive and wants it to fail.
  • The company expects the coach to handle managerial duties.
  • The client is not in a position to significantly impact the organization.

Leadership coaching is not a be-all-end-all solution for all problems leaders and their organizations face. Without the perfect alignment of circumstances, leadership coaching efforts can and will fail. Experienced leadership coaches can tell when they can’t make a difference through what they bring to the table.

Effective leadership coaching sparks lasting changes in habits and behavior. 

When is leadership coaching a waste of time? Coaching efforts fail when they cannot create lasting changes in the behavior of the trainee, as assessed by a selection of third-party stakeholders.

Several circumstances and factors can contribute to the failure of leadership coaching efforts.

1. The Changes The Leader and The Organization Seek are Not Behavioral

Leaders can improve their contributions to the organizational effort in many ways.

  • They can work on keeping their skill-set up to date. Having the aptitude to perform their work is a basic requirement.
  • They may improve themselves as leaders by expanding their awareness and proactively addressing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • They can overcome outside limiting factors such as poor supply chains, a lack of resources, etc.

Leadership coaching is about building a dialogue that enables the leader to develop their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and leadership competencies. If an organization wants to bring in someone to teach a leader how to do their job, that organization doesn’t need a leadership coach.

Leadership coaching does not offer concrete solutions to concrete problems. It endows leaders with the tools to find their solutions.

As I have made it clear in my leadership development books, correcting a leader’s ethical shortcomings isn’t a job for a coach, either. Such leaders fail to fulfill a basic condition of employment, and as such, they should go.

2. The Client Does Not Buy Into the Coaching Effort

When the client is not interested in coaching, does not believe in it, or isn’t willing to invest the time needed to effect meaningful behavioral change, leadership coaching can’t work.

Effective leadership coaching is a dialogue. As such, it requires two engaged parties who communicate, share ideas, and make discoveries together. If one of the parties is disengaged and disinterested, the dialogue collapses, and the coaching effort fails.

3. Coaching is a Pretext for Nudging a Failing Executive Out the Door

In the early days of leadership coaching, many top echelon leaders saw the process as a last-ditch effort to get failing leaders back in line. Some still retain this archaic view.

This type of attitude often goes hand-in-hand with a reluctance to provide direct negative feedback. Thus, some organizational figureheads bring in a leadership coach to prove that the person they want to see fired is, indeed, beyond repair.

Providing such validation is the polar opposite of what a leadership coach does or should do. By becoming a pawn in an intra-organizational game of reshuffling talent, a leadership coach will set themselves up to fail.

Nobody likes being set up to fail.

It is the responsibility of the organization and its leaders to identify problem employees and deal with them in line with the values and long-term vision of the company.

4. The Organization Seeks to Outsource its Challenges to a Coach

Some organizations see leadership coaching as a resource they can tap to handle everyday challenges within the workforce. Taking over the duties of a manager is not the job of a leadership development professional.

Coaches who fall into this trap set themselves up for failure and disappointment. If such a situation occurs, it is the duty and only option of the coach to end the coaching relationship.

5. The Client is Not in a Position in the Organization to Justify the Coaching Effort

Coaching a low-level leader may be rewarding, but it will likely fail to make a significant enough impact at the level of the organization to justify coaching expenses and the overall effort.

Unless the organization uses coaching to groom the client for a higher future role, this type of leadership coaching will fall flat.

To effect lasting behavioral change in a client, a leadership coach needs to expand awareness and trigger action. Some clients may find it impossible to commit to taking action. Such clients will also set up their coach to fail.

Check out my books for more on how leadership coaching works and how it can help your organization.



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