Coaching the Coachable

According to AMA/Institute for Productivity’s Survey, 52% of North American Companies are using coaching for their executives. And, Sherpa’s 2012 Annual Survey estimates that coaching programs will grow +36% this year alone.

So a frequent question we are asked is, what makes for a successful coaching engagement?

In our firm’s seven year history, we have had the pleasure of coaching over 650 leaders. We have coached senior leaders, mid-level leaders, brand new leaders, leaders in over their heads, leaders struggling with their bosses style, leaders from other countries, leaders in need of more work life balance and leaders who are high performing. We have coached retailers, manufacturers, human resource talent, c-suite talent, marketing executives, technology experts, engineers, communication senior talent, consultants, and health care professionals. We have enjoyed our share of successful coaching and lots of talent entered a coaching relationship with us, but not all the talent had a successful coaching engagement.

In our experience these five things usually lead to a succesful engagement:

  • The right fit- the coach and the leader are a good match and have established trust immediately
  • The coach has the right amount of business experience for credibility with the leader
  • The coach has a good understanding of the cultural implications, what will work and what business needs are essential for the leader’s success
  • The coach and the leader can connect the business impact to the coaching engagement
  • The organization sees the engagement as a way to support the leader, get them on track, develop them

And certainly we have seen numerous reasons for why a coaching assignment derails:

  • The organization saw coaching as a way to fix the person, but the timeline for change was unrealistic
  • The match was not a good fit
  • The coach’s style was not appropriate for the leader’s style
  • Trust was not established
  • Trust was broken in the process
  • The coach did not hold the leader accountable to the engagement’s goals

But, in our experience the number one reason a coaching engagement fails is because, “the leader is not coachable”.

Coaching a leader who has not bought into the process, who has no intention of learning something new about him/herself will not work. Recently, one of our clients asked us why we had enjoyed such terrific results with one leader, while the other leader (both were using the same coach) was struggling. A contrast in how both leaders approached the assignment was evident. The successful leader showed up on time for all sessions, asked for additional feedback, role played difficult situations, and relentlessly pursued the new knowledge the assignment offered her. The leader who was struggling frequently broke coaching times, did not complete assignments, was defensive, and exerted the minimum effort with her desire to learn something new about her leadership development.

For good reasons, coaching continues to grow inside organizations, how do you make sure your leaders are truly coachable?