Resistance to the change organizations want to effect through leadership coaching can take many shapes. The very structures and relationships of an organization can be the causes of such resistance, not to mention organizational culture. Individuals may also sabotage the results of leadership coaching programs.

The design and culture of your organization determine the success or failure of your individual coaching programs. 

Individual development is like a seed needing fertile ground to grow into a plant that eventually bears fruit. Within an organization, managerial processes and organizational design represent the fertile or barren soil upon which the seeds of individual development fall.

Organizational structure, culture, practices, and managerial processes create a context that sets the stage for the success or failure of individual development programs. If your business coaching program fails to yield the changes and results you expected, this is where the causes of failure most likely reside.

System versus Individual

Experience shows that the impact an individual can make within an organization is limited unless that individual has the power to alter basic structures and company culture. Employees receiving training will find their new habits conflicting with the organizational framework that surrounds them. Thus, they will quickly revert to the ways this environment supports, tolerates, and rewards.

The greatest hurdles to leadership and employee coaching and development have their roots in this primordial conflict between the individual and the system of which the individual is a part.

The Main Sources of Resistance to Change

Having established the source of the problems plaguing leadership coaching effectiveness, I have identified the following elements as the most significant hurdles for leadership coaching success.

  • The organization fails to define a clear purpose, values, and direction, leading to unclear priorities.
  • Authoritarian leadership by top executives permeates the organizational culture, preventing honest dialog and hindering communication. Employees are afraid to talk about the problems they face to senior leaders.
  • Senior leadership is not on board with the changes or fails to communicate its adherence to the new direction.
  • Faulty processes lead to talent management failures.
  • The organization suffers from a general lack of coordination due to poor organizational structure.

These hurdles are the primary killers of leadership coaching effectiveness. Problems can, however, arise from the individual as well.

Individuals May Resist Change

Coaching clients have to tap into the resources the coach offers. 

It may happen that instead of the system, the individual sabotages the leadership coaching process. Such individuals can be those receiving coaching or the senior executives who have contracted the coaching for one of their high-potential employees.

  • The peers/superiors of the coached leader expect the coach to play bad cop. In an organization with an unhealthy culture, communication may break down in many different directions. Sometimes, executives feel queasy about providing honest feedback to an employee, leaving the coach to do the “dirty work.” When that happens, trust between the coach and client breaks down, sabotaging the outcome of the coaching effort.
  • The target of the program doesn’t understand how to relate to coaching. Being a coaching client entails a partnership with the coach that should transcend the confines of formal meetings. Leaders who proactively reach out to use the resources the coach makes available are much more likely to achieve their objectives.
  • The client doesn’t trust the coach. Some of us are more reluctant to build trust than others. Some may believe that coaching is an attempt to bring underperformers up to speed. Others may be skeptical about leadership coaching and the results it can deliver. These dated beliefs can all sabotage the coaching process.

How Can You Overcome these Hurdles? 

To create the right circumstances for education and development, the coach should make sure that senior executives wholeheartedly buy into the proposition. Once leaders with the power to alter the company culture are onboard, the next step is to ensure that there is fertile ground for the new attitudes, practices, habits, and mindsets to take hold.

Overcoming the barriers to learning and strategy execution may require sweeping changes within the organization, such as:

  • Reshaping the roles and responsibilities of the company
  • Rearranging the relationships of employees, managers, and executives
  • Redesigning the structure of the organization in a way that doesn’t just facilitate learning but requires it

For a leadership coaching program to succeed, many circumstances need to come together in a favorable constellation. The good news is that executives, coaching clients, and leadership development professionals have control of all the variables. In the end, the success or failure of leadership coaching only depends on how committed to change the involved parties are.


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