The Missing Key to Executive Coaching

Bob Wiesner | May 1, 2018

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Every organization has strong performers on the leadership team. And, often, some who are not as strong.

The enlightened firm will make an effort to improve that person’s performance. Executive coaching is the method of choice for many. It can have a positive impact, sure. But in many organizations, the benefits wind up being limited.

Here’s a compelling point from a 2017 McKinsey article called “What’s Missing in Leadership Development”

“Leadership-development efforts have always foundered when participants learn new things, but then return to a rigid organization that disregards their efforts for change or even actively works against them.”

This often explains a frustrating element of exec coaching. One leader returns from coaching with new, more effective behaviors and mindsets. He then has to work with colleagues who aren’t aligned with those new, improved approaches. The inevitable result: The leader who received coaching reverts back to old ways. Worst case: he grows frustrated and leaves. Either way, a waste of resources.

The Wrong Solution for the Right Problem

At the core of this problem lies the decision to pursue coaching without regard to the context within with that coaching is taking place. Executive coaching has a well-deserved positive reputation. I’ve loved nearly all the coaching assignments I’ve done, including those ongoing right now. But that context issue is very real.

When there’s no consideration given to the performance and behavior of the entire leadership team, the coachee can wind up a lone eagle. An outlier. The one exec who now has better approaches and behaviors, facing the balance of the team who aren’t on board. He may want to implement better strategies and tactics, yet experiences continual pushback from colleagues. That exec might now be viewed as the black sheep of the leadership team. Here’s a really sad part. To the exec, everything now looks even worse when viewed through the new lens of what effective leadership behavior really looks like.

Executive coaching will be a waste of resources if the exec’s peer group and leadership team aren’t aligned with new processes and mindsets. If you’re considering coaching for yourself, or someone else, take a realistic look at the entire leadership team. Group training might yield much better results, especially in concert with coaching.



Many leaders don’t realize the real impact their behavior is having on those around them, including peers and direct reports and their teams. Effective leaders understand that they have the ability to inspire – or demotivate – their people through any deliberate or unintentional action.

A marketing leader at a major financial institution saw this as an opportunity to align his team around better behaviors. Our Inspirational Leadership workshop was the foundation of his efforts. We combined it with a personality assessment, which we revealed to the entire team. Once the team knew more about each other, they developed their own cultural expectations and “rules of engagement” for how they would operate both with each other and with their direct reports. This aligned leadership approach set a tone that cascaded through the organization.


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