Why Coaching Can Fail

Executive coaching has come a long way in the last 20 years. From humble beginnings as a last resort for problem executives and struggling managers, it has emerged as a key practice at all levels of an organization. Coaches have transformed from being a disparate group of HR leaders, external consultants, former executives and gurus to a fairly cohesive group of well-trained experts. Many have advanced degrees and professional accreditation by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), among others.

While working with coaches, coachees are often encouraged to come prepared, set realistic goals, engage in active listening, be honest with themselves, reflect on their behaviour, work to do better and more. This guidance, however well-intentioned, misses the mark. It assumes that coachees, like dieters, are rational beings who simply lack information about their food intake, or have forgotten that they want to be thin and need to be reminded. The reality is that indecisive executives, bullying supervisors and disorganized account managers don’t need lessons on how to make better decisions, develop empathy and make to-do-lists.

The challenge of coaching for both coach and coachee is that it is genuinely hard work. So what are some of the practices that we get wrong? Here are four common reasons why coaching fails:

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Jack Muskat, PhD

Written By

Jack Muskat, PhD, is a Toronto-based organizational psychologist, writer and lecturer with 25 years consulting and business experience. He advises senior executives and managers and is an acknowledged expert on issues relating to organizational culture, leadership, succession planning and strategic management. He also teaches courses on leadership and negotiations at the Schulich School of Business.


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