Home Home | About Us | Sitemap | Contact  
  • Info For
  • Professionals
  • Students
  • Educators
  • Media
  • Search
    Powered By Google

Executive and Leadership Coaching: Failures in Coaching and How to Prevent Them  

Executive and leadership coaching has the capacity to fulfill objectives unmet by other business processes.  Evidence supporting this conclusion comes from participant evaluations, interviews with supervisors, and a trend toward participants being disproportionately promoted into senior executive ranks in a public sector coaching program.  The  program, however, experienced coaching relationships that failed.  When these failures occurred, the individual and/or the organization were generally worse off than if coaching had not been tried.  The following information and observations are presented  to help others avoid  some of these pitfalls and to improve their coaching efforts. 

Failure in a coaching program can be defined as when the coachee, after a course of coaching, is not more prepared for increased complexity, greater productivity, or challenges within the organization.  A failure also can occur when the organization spends resources that do not result in increased productivity, preparedness, or organizational fit for an employee.

Internal program coordinators are important leverages in effectively running coaching programs.  They usually are responsible for ongoing program elements, including signing up organizational units to participate in programs, providing coaches, selecting candidates for coaching, making matches with coaches, monitoring the progress of the coaching relationships, communicating with internal clients and external or internal coaches about the coaching program, and creating, collecting and tracking program performance indicators.   

From a program management perspective, failures can be attributed to one of three basic weaknesses: not setting clear organizational objectives for executive coaching, weak program design and execution, or issues with the coaching relationships.  

Unclear or Ill-Defined Objectives for Coaching

To begin with, a successful coaching program is one in which the program manager forms strong partnerships with client organizations.  Managers then see coaching as a programmatic approach to building leaders in their organizations.  Whenever such partnerships are not formed, client organizations are at risk for not providing adequate resources for the coaching process.  Second, it is important that program coordinators have clarity about the reasons their units are signing up. Sometimes organizations participate in coaching programs because they understand coaching to be a Best Management Practice but fail to set  specific strategic goals for the use of coaching.  These organizations may not see good results for their efforts, partly because there is no way to measure success against organizational requirements.  

Without clear organizational goals for coaching potential leaders in their organization, coaching tends to become peripheral to the business mission, an add-on, or perk rather than a strategic tool.  Many employees  cannot see a direct link to their mission, and therefore, do not then request coaching services when they might otherwise benefit from these services. Sometimes managers direct employees to get coaches and then these employees sometimes perceive the activity as punitive or corrective, resulting in not putting much effort into the coaching relationship.  Subsequently, coaching does not result in positive changes for the participant.  

Anyone starting a coaching program should assist their client organizations in setting specific goals derived from organizational objectives.  One can ask the client manager such questions as: What does your organization need to see after your high potential employees are coached?  Why is your organization considering a coaching program rather than a mentoring or education program?  What are you willing to provide your employee in coaching to support success?  After some failures in our program, only organizations that sat down with the program director to articulate the business case for coaching and a metrics plan to determine client ROI were enrolled.  

Weak Program Design and Execution  

Program design and execution can be impacted by the candidate pool selection, the coach pool selection and the match between the two.  

The Candidate Pool  

When managers do not support coaching for their organizations or when organizations do not have a clear idea of what coaching can, and cannot, accomplish,  the best candidates often do not enroll for coaching.  For example, it is sometimes the case where employees are directed into coaching to fix them.   When this occurs, managers might list changes they expect from an individual following coaching, but these changes are seldom concrete or measurable. Invariably, these participants fail to set personal, achievable goals, and do not make much progress.  In some cases,  employers require  changes as a condition of the next assignment and thus next promotion.  Yet, when these coaching relationships fail, some organizations  give the assignment anyway.  This practice decreases the credibility of coaching programs and make it less likely that an individual will see a compelling reason to remedy observed deficits in the future.   

Three related problems can follow:

  • Some who come to coaching believe the process will guarantee a promotion or coveted assignment,

  • The candidate pool  can be restricted by lack of understanding and support by senior managers, and

  • Good candidates may not enroll because of negative perceptions of coaching as remedial for poor performers.

One way to avoid this problem is to accept only coaching clients who are encouraged to set their own goals and make their own learning contract with the coach.  One also can mitigate selection problems by implementing a good communication plan: brief appropriate audiences as often, and in as many ways as possible is a good tactic.   

Poor Coach Selection

Another important factor is coach selection. One way of helping to ensure that coaches are good is to maintain clear, high standards of education and experience and a good structured interview for selection of coaches.  Coaches should be  rigorously examined to ensure they could succeed in your unique organizational culture.  It also is important to ensure that coaches do not confuse  coaching objectives with clinical therapy. 

Failures in the Matching Process  

Poor matches between client and coach also can result in coaching failure.  For example, a very warm and supportive coach  can prove too intrusive for some coaching candidates.  The individual who matches the pairs needs to know the coaches available very well to maximize the effectiveness of matches between new clients and coaches.  Factors to consider in matching include personality, the individuals coaching goals and the coachs functional or professional expertise, coaching model and style (e.g., directive versus supportive), gender, sex, age, ethnic background, and orientation of the coach to the individual versus the organization. Effective matching often requires significant training, expertise and experience on the part of the program manager.  

Issues of the Coaching Relationship  

A final class of failures can come from the coaching relationship itself.  Even well trained and talented coaches fail to get results from time to time, but there are ways to minimize these instances. In particular, when coaches are rigorously vetted, a good program director can provide the proper infrastructure for them to do their best work.  

First, clients or coaches should be able to request  a new match without negative consequences.  Second, coaches should provide to the program manager a confidential monthly status report  for each coaching client.  It might detail the coaching contract established, issues being covered, and the current status of the work.  The program director is then able to intervene or advise if there are signs of a problem developing especially when there is evidence that  that the client and coach have not set realistic, achievable goals.  Addressing this situation upon observation can help to ensure that failure does not occur.   It also is important that the coach does not take on too much responsibility for the success of the relationship.  Solid reporting can help to reveal whether this is happening.  

In summary, failures in coaching might be said to come from forgetting a basic coaching principle: The coach is not in the business of pleasing the client, but of serving him or her.  This means the program director does not give in to demands to provide coaching to fix an employee nor does s/he provide a particular coach because the coachee requests that match.  Individual coaches are encouraged to hold clients accountable for their homework.  Even when failure is rare,  paying attention to the patterns of failure described above, can make them even rarer in your coaching program.

Coaching Table of Contents

Workplace home page