A very wise leader, Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford and Fortune’s #3 greatest leader in the world 2013, once told me, “The key to your success is having great customers. If you have a great customer, your process will always work. If you have the wrong customer, your process will never work.”
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that not all executive coaching engagements are successful. Unsuccessful coaching engagements can mean wasted time and expense for the person being coached and the organization, and for these reasons everyone wants to avoid them!
So, how do you determine the conditions that are ripe for an executive coaching engagement to succeed? And, how can you tell if it is doomed to failure?
For me, the first question I ask when determining if I am going to take on a coaching client is: are the client’s issues behavioral?
Almost all of the people I know who call themselves executive coaches are coaches in the area of leadership behavior. There are a few very excellent coaches in the corporate strategy domain, for instance Vijay Govindarajan and Michael Porter. Most though, perhaps as much as 90%, are behavioral coaches with backgrounds in psychology or organizational behavior. I’m in the 90%, and what we do is help leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.
Behavioral coaching only helps if a person has behavioral issues. I get some ridiculous requests for my approach to coaching. It would be crazy for me to take these assignments! For example, a pharmaceutical company called me recently. The HR person said, “We want you to coach Dr. X.” I said, “What’s his problem?” “He’s not updated on recent medical technology,” was the answer. “Neither am I!” I said. I can’t make a bad doctor a good doctor, a bad scientist a good scientist, or a bad engineer a good engineer. I am a behavioral coach and behavioral coaching only solves behavioral issues.
The second question I ask is: are the client’s issues integrity or ethical issues?
I do not coach people with integrity issues. I read an article in Forbes once that I found very disturbing. It was about people who, instead of being fired for ethics violations, got coaches. My personal belief is that people who commit integrity violations should be fired, not coached. Ask yourself, how many integrity violations does it take to ruin the reputation of a company? Just one. You don’t coach integrity violations. You fire them.
And finally, the last question I ask is: are the client and the organization going in different directions?
Behavioral coaching doesn’t help if the person and the company are going in different directions or if one of them is going in the wrong direction. If somebody is going in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching just helps them get there faster. Behavioral coaching doesn’t turn the wrong direction into the right direction.