The Coaching Conundrum

🕑 3 minutes read | Jan 03 2023 | By Joseph M Jordan, TTA Learning Consultant

Ask ten CHROs or CKOs if their organizations promote a high-performance culture and you will get ten positive responses. In a highly competitive global market, no top HR or learning executive would admit to anything less.

Characteristically, a performance-driven culture provides a plentitude of feedback and coaching that is shared up, down, and across the organization. If companies remain committed to coaching for performance, why do surveys continue to validate the lack of bench strength and talent prepared for senior roles? The McKinsey authors of CEO Excellence note that 40 percent of CEOs “fail” in their first 18 months in the role and 30 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS last less than three years at a company.

Could the onus for the talent gap fall as much on the people receiving coaching as on the need for better coaching? Candidly, why do many leaders in executive development or high-potential programs complete those programs thinking and acting much like they did when the engagements began? Coaching programs change results when the person participating in a coaching process desires change and wants the development experience to impact behavior. Executive coach Martin Goldsmith says, “Coaching works best with high-potential people who are willing to make a concerted effort to change.”

We should never underestimate the ability of a human being to quietly and effectively resist a desperately needed change. Every January, health clubs are crowded with people who, for a variety of reasons, join a gym to “get in shape.” Let a few weeks pass and the crowd generally returns to normal, with only a few permanent additions. Those that stick around are those that decided to change more than their behavior—they made a fundamental shift in how they thought about their health and exercise. Changing what you do gives you better results. Changing how you think creates sustainably better results that continue over time.

Perhaps training consultants could help companies achieve a greater impact on building that needed bench of talent if learning professionals insisted that high-potentials, succession candidates, or super-achievers weren’t allowed to begin a coaching program before they were assessed for—

  • Self-awareness (the “known to others, unknown to self” box in the Johari window should be very small)
  • Candor (about him/her/their self, not about other people)
  • Openness to critical (perhaps disapproving) feedback about specific actions, style of engagement, leadership, etc.
  • A desire (a strong feeling of wanting) to change is more than a willingness (being prepared to do something) to change

It is hard to build a strong leader in a weak or broken system. If not alert to that reality, training consultants easily commit to coaching outcomes a management system won’t support. Change requires risk and often, poor results on the path to achievement. People wanting to change how they work and engage with others need the freedom to mess up on the way to dramatic improvement. A successful coaching program demands the full and accepting support of senior leaders sponsoring the coaching candidate. Top executives need to model the behaviors they expect and hold people accountable for the changes they desire. Ignore this component, and a coaching endeavor is likely to miss its intended goal.

If training professionals want client organizations to see a greater impact from their investments in developing talent, coaches, and the leaders their support would benefit greatly from focusing as much attention on the mindset of the candidate as in the quality of the coaching.

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