So, you’ve got a problem in your business. You hire a fancy consultant who comes in, interviews everyone to diagnose the problem, and then announces that the solution is leadership coaching for you or a member of your team.
Ah, yes – leadership coaching. It always sounds like a great idea, and it’s often touted as the one-size-fits-all solution for whatever ails your business. Helping leaders develop and improve their skills, knowledge, and behaviors in order to achieve better performance does sound like a worthy goal. But when someone tells me they were told to hire a leadership coach, I’m always concerned it’s going to end up being a waste of time and money.
No Barrier to Entry
Realistically, anyone can call themselves a Leadership Coach without any special training or certification. A business consultant can wake up one morning, decide there’s good money in the leadership coaching niche, slap “Leadership Coach” after their name on their LinkedIn profile, and have someone whip up a website using a template for leadership coaches. Easy, peasy.
In short, there is no barrier to entry.
Yes, there are well-qualified, experienced leadership coaches out there who can seemingly work miracles with leaders who are struggling. They are able to assess the situation, determine if leadership coaching is the best solution for the problem, and create a leadership coaching program that is both effective and sustainable.
But, based on my experience in corporate America and as a part-time COO working with entrepreneurs and small business owners, those leadership coaches are few and far between. I’m sorry to say that many “Leadership Coaches” do not possess the educational background, experience working with a variety of personalities, and the ability to customize a leadership coaching program to suit a specific person in a specific work environment.
And if you end up hiring someone who isn’t qualified to be a leadership coach, you end up wasting time and money.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Another reason leadership coaching may not be effective is that many leadership coaches work with a “one-size-fits-all” approach to leadership development. They have a specific, structured leadership philosophy that they adhere to, and that’s the only coaching tool they use.
This approach is problematic because leadership is a complex and multifaceted skill that requires a personalized and tailored approach in order to be effective. For example, a style that works in a large Fortune 500 company may not be well received in a small non-profit organization staffed primarily by volunteers.
We often talk about leadership as if it’s a single, definable skill. But it’s really a nuanced combination of personality, communication style, subject matter expertise, and environment. We do a disservice to developing leaders when we try to indoctrinate them in one specific approach to leadership.
Additionally, the one-size-fits-all approach can lead to a lack of focus and direction. A coach who tries to cover too many topics in a short amount of time may end up providing superficial or generic advice that does not address the specific challenges facing the leader or organization.
Also, a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership coaching can lead to a lack of engagement and motivation. A leader who feels that the coaching is not tailored to their specific needs and challenges may not be as engaged and motivated to put the learning into practice. This can lead to a lack of progress and improvement and can ultimately result in the coaching being seen as a waste of time and money.
Effective leadership coaching requires a personalized and tailored approach that takes into account the unique needs and challenges of the leader and the organization. A coach who uses a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership development is likely to miss the mark and fail to produce meaningful results.
Individual, Not Organizational Focus
Another reason why leadership coaching may not be effective is that it is often focused solely on the individual leader rather than the organization as a whole.
When leadership coaching is focused solely on the individual leader, it can lead to a disconnect between the leader’s development and the culture and needs of the organization. The leader may improve their skills and knowledge, but if these improvements don’t align with the goals and objectives of the organization, they may not have a significant impact on the leader’s success within the organization.
And, a coaching program that does not consider the larger context and culture of the organization may fail to address the specific issues that are affecting the organization. Every organization is unique, with its own set of issues and challenges. A coaching program that does not take these issues into account may not provide solutions that are relevant or effective for the individual leader trying to improve within that organization.
A leadership coaching program that is not integrated into the larger context and culture of the organization will probably end up being a waste of time and money.
Trust & Respect
Another important factor that can hinder the effectiveness of leadership coaching is the relationship between the coach and the leader. To be effective, that relationship must be built on trust and respect.
This is often a sticking point for effective leadership coaching. Typically, when you’re hiring a leadership coach, it’s for a CEO, business owner, or senior executive. It’s probably safe to say that they see themselves as successful and smart. They may even think they’re usually the smartest person in the room. And while they may be right, that attitude toward a leadership coach can be the kiss of death.
The leader must think that the coach is at least as smart as they are. Without that, the coach is fighting a losing battle. If the leader doesn’t respect the advice and guidance of the coach, they’ll cancel coaching appointments or just go through the motions, but their leadership skills won’t improve.
The coach’s role is to facilitate the learning and development process of the leader. But they can’t do that without the trust and respect of the leader. Without that, leadership coaching ends up being a waste of time and money.
Lack of Follow-up/Accountability
Another reason why leadership coaching may not be effective is the lack of proper follow-up and accountability. Many organizations invest time and resources in leadership coaching programs but do not have plans in place to ensure that new leadership skills are put into practice. Without follow-up and accountability, the leader may show short-term improvement, but they’ll eventually slip back into their old leadership habits.
One way to ensure follow-up and accountability is to establish clear goals and objectives for the coaching program. These goals and objectives should be aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives and should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Having clear goals and objectives provides a way to track progress and measure results.
Another way to ensure follow-up and accountability is to have regular check-ins between the coach and the leader. These check-ins provide an opportunity for the coach to provide feedback and support and for the leader to report on their progress and any challenges they’re facing.
And involving the leader’s manager or key stakeholders in the coaching process can also ensure follow-up and accountability. Having the manager or key stakeholders involved in the coaching process ensures that they are aware of the leader’s development needs and progress. They can provide direction and feedback to help the leader focus on using their new leadership skills.
Without proper follow-up and accountability, the leader almost always reverts to old leadership habits, and then you’re right back where you started from – after you wasted all that time and money.
Leadership coaching can be a valuable tool for helping leaders develop and improve their skills and knowledge. However, it is important to recognize that leadership is a complex and multifaceted skill that requires a personalized and tailored approach.
Additionally, organizations must also ensure that the coaching takes into account the larger context and culture of the organization and that appropriate follow-up and accountability mechanisms are in place.
Finally, it is crucial that both the organization and its leaders have the right mindset and attitude toward learning and development.
Leadership coaching can be effective, but it requires a well-designed and executed program tailored to the specific organization and leader that’s implemented and led by a qualified, experienced coach.