September 23, 2021

Leadership Coaching is Not for Everyone!

businessman bored on phoneApproximately 6-7 times a year, my phone rings, and on the other end of the line is an H.R.  Director, CEO or President of a company saying something like this:

  1. We have a leader on our team who we want to keep, but he just is not doing what he needs to do, and we have done everything we can do to make him “change”, and he just won’t.  We need your help.
  2. We have an employee who was a great manager, and she has moved up in the company, and we have given her several warnings about her lack of productivity.  We would like to ask you to come in and work with her as a last-ditch effort before we ask her to resign.
  3. We have a leader on a team who needs some training and a performance review.  He has promise, but he is just not learning quickly enough, and we need you to come in and help him improve.
  4. We have an Executive Leader who “needs to be fixed”.  (I am on the other end of the  line thinking “who needs to be fixed”…Seriously?  Did you really just say that with my jaw dropped down to my knees).

If you are a leadership coach, does this sound familiar?  I bet it does!  I’m right there with ya!

The first thing I have to say is this.  If someone in the company is calling you to offer 6 months of leadership coaching to  a client as their way of “gracefully exiting them out the door” or “fixing them” or “making their problems go away”, look out!  That red flag needs to go up.  You cannot fix, change, cure or correct a problem for anyone.  As a leadership coach, you are there to support your clients in growing and becoming stronger and more masterful leaders.  No one likes to be told by their boss that “uh…eh…we are bringing in a coach to help you”.  This makes the employee feel two inches high or scares them to death, because they think you are coming in as the “coach of death” and that they are on their way out the door.

If the sponsoring company calls you with anything that sounds fishy (like they are hiring you as a last desperate measure), then I personally would not take on that client.  If you are great at “fixing” people and magically turning them into great employees, that is wonderful, but I seriously doubt that many leadership coaches can really do that.

Number 1:  As a leadership coach, you cannot “fix” or “change” anyone.

Number 2:  If a sponsoring company is hiring you, and the client did not call you, the first question I ask of the client is “I know your boss/H.R./CEO called me to meet with you.  How do YOU feel about this coaching thing?”  The answer to this question could be one of excitement, a lukewarm attitude, indifference or outright anger that a coach was called in.  If the client has not bought into the idea of working with a coach, you are headed for a great deal of frustration, and when you don’t “fix” the client, the company will put the majority of the blame on you.  Yep…you just couldn’t “fix” the client.

Now then, I want to shift just a minute to the clients who are more than likely not going to respond well to coaching.  This is not always the case, but I have seen these five scenarios dozens of times, and I have actually ended contracts with people who have exhibited these behaviors, because I can tell that the situation is just not getting better.  So here we go:

1.  A leader who is unable to adapt to differences.  This is the leader who truly has difficulty working with new bosses, team members and even ideas.  In coaching, you are going to constantly be challenging people to shift and to try on new ideas.  A leader who is unable to adapt to difference will show up in the coaching session as:

  • Defensive
  • Unwilling to take on the field work, because to her it is ridiculous
  • Arrogant
  • Disagreeable
  • A Perfectionist
  • Someone who hangs on to “the way we once did them…you know…back in the good old days!”

2. A leader who has a block around personal and professional development.  This is the type of leader who is completely closed off to learning new personal, professional, managerial or leadership skills.  He prefers staying just as he is, lacks curiosity and rarely seeks input from others.  A leader who is not willing to open up to personal and professional development will show up in the coaching session as:

  • Afraid to take on a new activity
  • Low risk taker
  • Too busy to take on the field work or try on something new
  • Making excuses for not taking on a big challenge you requested
  • Not open to brainstorming around new ideas and approaches

3.  A leader who cannot deal with paradox.  Paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but plays out as a truth in life.  As an example, in coaching, I encourage my leaders to “broaden their vision…making it bigger than life” while “narrowing their focus on the most critical activity at hand”.  To keep your eye on the big picture while narrowing your focus can be tough.  Leadership coaches offer up activities that seem paradoxical to help a leader be able to shift his thinking and stay on course.  A leader who cannot deal with paradox will show up in the coaching session as:

  • Inflexible
  • Having a tough time shifting gears in the coaching conversation
  • Trying to do things his way only….a rigid way
  • Finding a very hard time balancing the opposite balls flying in the air
  • Afraid to leave his comfort zone

4.  A leader who is defensive.  I mentioned defensiveness in number 1, but being defensive is a sure sign that you are going to have a tough client on your hands.  This leader is someone who usually has trouble with other people, is not open to feedback , so as a result, everyone walks on eggshells around her and never gives feedback.  This leader is living in her own little heaven.  Her perception is everything is “perfect” because “no feedback is good feedback…right?”  Nope….not so.  A leader who is defensive will show up in the coaching session as:

  • Argumentative
  • Not open to feedback
  • A leader who makes excuses with both formal and informal feedback are offered up
  • In total denial about any flaws and mistakes
  • Blaming everyone in the company for her problems
  • A leaders who simply does not listen
  • A leader who has no intention of sharing even the tiniest of flaws with you

5.  A leader who is just not coachable.  I always meet with my clients before I agree to work with them and to see if they are truly coachable.  Are they excited?  Are they willing to be on time?  Do they see the connection in their actions and behaviors and the bottom line results for the company?   You may decide before you take on a client that he is just not coachable, but some people can really turn on the enthusiasm, especially if they know their job is at stake.  We can all be fooled by the masters.  If you do take on a coaching agreement with a leader who turns out to not be coachable, here is what will show up in the coaching sessions:

  • Tardiness
  • Unwilling to do the work between calls so that growth and results happen as quickly as possible
  • He will try to coach you…he won’t allow you to coach him
  • Makes promises to you that he cannot keep (I promise I will do this one activity this week, and he doesn’t)
  • Talks around an issue…won’t really tell the full truth or be direct and honest with the coach
  • Continually says “Oh…that won’t work for me” when you offer up ideas for field work that you believe will help
  • Continues to display self-defeating behaviors that get in the way of success (procrastination, cancelling calls, arguing)
  • Is not willing to pay your fee, because he just does not see any value in the coaching

I am not going to offer up any advice on the above situations except this:  As a coach, you should care enough about your client to name the behavior that you are noticing and then map out a plan of action to correct the behavior.  The plan of action should be a collaboration between you and the client and should include activities that the client enjoys so that he can learn doing what he loves.  As an example, I will challenge my clients who talk too much to go to dinner or lunch 3 times during the week and in one hour, only talk for ten minutes.  Or, if a client is stuck, together, we will come up with an activity that she has never done before just to see how it feels to do something new.  But, at the end of the day, as a leadership coach, you have to have the courage to tell the client what you are noticing by saying something like this “You know…I could be off here…but my perception is that you argue a great deal.  Every time I mention something or ask a question, you seem to want to argue.  Is this just me, or do you do this with other people?”  Or “I have to be honest with you…you have been late for four appointments, and you have cancelled two appointments in the last month.  The perception I am getting is that the coaching is really not that important to you.  Let’s talk about this.”

If you are a leadership coach, and if you are struggling to be direct and honest with your executive coaching clients, contact me today, and I will talk with you for a few minutes to see if I can be of any assistance.  It is tough, but when it comes to leadership coaching, you are not being paid to have a nice chat.  You are being paid to challenge your clients to be real, to grow and to look in the mirror at where they are falling short so that they gain the trust and credibility they need to lead a team or a company.

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