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How do you help leaders succeed? Give them some coaching, that’s the widely accepted solution. Then why do some executives give up on coaching programs designed to help them improve?
Executive coaching offers a tremendous opportunity to leverage leadership talent and resources. Coaching is no longer reserved for problem leaders. It is more frequently sought by top performers whose organizations value their management and growth potential. Yet, sometimes coaching programs just don’t work. Why?
Why Leaders Give Up
When it comes to change, some leaders lose motivation and fail to "stick with the program." Marshall Goldsmith, the renowned executive coach who has worked with many Fortune 100 leaders, reports on several reasons why leaders give up. Regardless of the coach’s competence, failure to achieve goals may occur for several reasons:
1. Ownership: The more leaders feel the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually "trying it out," the less likely the coaching process will work. If leaders are simply "playing games," with no clear commitment, their bosses must be willing to discontinue the coaching process—for the good of both the company and the coaching profession.
2. Time: Goal setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population. Ordinarily, our behavior changes long before our coworkers perceive any change.
3. Difficulty: Goal setters’ optimism applies to difficulty, as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think; it also requires hard work! Long-term change in leadership effectiveness takes real effort. For example, it can be challenging for busy, opinionated leaders to have the discipline to stop and listen patiently while others say things they may not want to hear.
4. Distractions: Leaders have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably surface in any given year. By planning for distractions in advance, leaders can set realistic expectations for change and, consequently, will be less likely to renounce the change process.
5. Rewards: Leaders tend to become disappointed when achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into achievement of other goals. If leaders think skills improvement will quickly lead to short-term profits, promotions or recognition, they may become disappointed and give up when these things fail to materialize instantaneously.
6. Maintenance: Once a leader has put forth the effort required to achieve a goal, it can be tough to maintain behaviors that incorporate the new changes. Leaders must recognize that professional development is an ongoing process, with a lifelong commitment. Leadership involves relationships—and relationships and people change. Maintaining positive relationships requires long-term effort.
Coaching can be daunting for some leaders, as they must be willing to be vulnerable and open. It is exhilarating for those who embrace it and commit to change. Unlike management science or academic theory, coaching is an exciting interpersonal journey.
Coaches and their clients form strong bonds built on trust, openness, confidence and achievement. For coaching to work, the connection must be firm and the coaching program must operate with clear ground rules.