Leadership Effectiveness: Do Not Attempt Executive Coaching In A Leadership Desert

Leadership Effectiveness: Don’t Attempt Executive Coaching In A Leadership DesertTrying to coach an executive in a system that remains broken is doomed to fail. It’s summer, let’s think about baseball. If one player is consistently hitting home runs but the other batters can’t hit the ball, drop the ball in the infield and can’t catch it in the outfield, and the pitcher can’t find the strike zone, the ball club is not going to win.

Do you remember Dr. Deming’s Red Bead Experiment? Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993), the brilliant management theorist, long ago made the point that a “willing worker” cannot succeed at improving his own performance unless the system in which he works is also willing to improve. The point was that the worker can try and try to get things right, but if the system fights every step of the way, workers find themselves in a no-win situation.

The relevance to executive coaching is that, in order for coaching to succeed, it needs to take place in a context that is supportive of the executive’s growth and change. Don’t forget the Red Bead Experiment when you are thinking about hiring an executive coach. Here’s the bottom line: even if a person is capable of improving, it can’t happen unless the system supports that improvement. Otherwise, when the person fails, the company has done nothing more than take a “willing worker” and make him a scapegoat.

What are we talking about in terms of non-supportive systems? Here are some examples:

  • Bosses who are not committed to self-improvement, are not open to feedback, and cannot deliver direct feedback to anyone else.
  • Senior management who do not work together effectively as a team; who single out one executive as the designated person to improve.
  • A system that does not foster straight feedback about perceived performance gaps.

When you consider executive coaching within your organization, make sure you are in the right ballpark and you know where the problems originate. If the issue is really the system, the system needs attention or the player designated for development, the one executive, will not improve.

How can you ensure that the solution addresses the problem at the right level? Is coaching a particular executive going to achieve the desired results? Is the system itself healthy? Are people striving for their own improvement and helping colleagues with theirs?

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