October 24, 2021

When A Leader Fails, Who Is At Fault? The Training, The Coach or The Client?

On March 16, Kelly and Marshall Goldsmith wrote a great post on BNET:  Why Leadership Program’s Don’t Work (Hint: It’s Not the Coach).  I had read the post on BNET and then about 8 people sent me the post.  I have been sitting at my desk for the last week looking at this article  thinking about the positions taken in the post.

The Goldsmiths take the position that at the end of the day, if a leader or manager attends a conference and has no follow up, success rarely follows.  The rate of success increases based on the frequency of follow up coaching and at the end of the day, it really is the responsibility of the client to change.   Quoted from the article:

The bottom line: It’s all about you, not the coach, not the book, not the program. If you’re reading a book or listening to lectures on leadership, but you don’t actually do the work and it’s like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger lift weights–you’re not going to get muscles. That’s why we later wrote an article, based on this study, called, “Leadership is a Contact Sport.” To become a better leader, you must have the fire within to change, do the actual work, and–this is key–have the humility and courage to discuss your progress with a colleague.

I never thought I would see the day when I slightly disagreed with Marshall Goldsmith. In my opinion, he is one of THE top executive coaches in the country and does fantastic work.  He has written several books on the subject, and his style is not passive…it is strong, direct and bottom line oriented, and his clients do get results.  If they don’t, then yes…what the Goldsmiths say in this article is probably true.  If Marshall Goldsmith were my coach, and if  my results were tanking, then I would have to agree that it was all about me.

I do want to add another view to this post.  There are times when I believe the coach needs to take ownership for the client’s lack of success.  Here are some examples when the coach can hurt the client’s chance of success and truly should take responsibility:

  1. The coach is not strong enough to lay the truth on the table. How many times do you find yourself holding back on tough questions and tough responses, because you are afraid of making the client mad?  Gosh…he might just fire you, then what will you do?
  2. The client needs therapy…not coaching, and the coach is not confident enough in her skills to either turn down the client or ask the client to first see a therapist before entering into a coaching arrangement.  If you notice a client is in regret, remorse, guilt, talking about being/feeling depressed, and if you are not a therapist, this is time to turn the client in the direction of an experienced therapist.
  3. The coach is not holding the client accountable. Coaching is not a process of lying on a couch just chatting about past problems.  That is therapy.  Coaching is a proactive, moving forward, active process during which the client must be in action around changing key behaviors connected to success.  As a coach, if you are not holding your client accountable, then who will?
  4. The coach is not challenging the client to go to multiple resources to find conclusions to their current dilemmas. I recall Thomas Leonard once saying “Just remember: The answer is out there somewhere.  The answer may be in the client.  It may be in you.  It may be in a book.  It may be in a week-end seminar.  It may be in a family member or in a scrapbook.”   Sitting around and waiting on the answer to just land in the client’s lap like manna from heaven is probably not going to happen.  The coach must be willing to push the client to go digging for what I call “treasure answers”…both internally and in the environment.  The client must be willing to go and find creative ways to make things work, and then practice those strategies over and over again until they become wrote.

At the end of the day, as a coach, if you are:

  • Challenging the client right and left
  • Being honest and direct
  • Asking tough questions
  • Holding the client accountable
  • Bringing great resources to the table for exploration
  • Pressing for more clarity
  • And making it real

Then yes, the Goldsmiths are right.  If you are bringing 110% of yourself to the coaching process, then it then is the client’s full responsibility to either move up or down.  Just don’t expect your clients to have any type of movement if you are in the middle eating milk toast.



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