Coaching is Not a Magical Carwash

I’m an executive coach. This means I work on a one-to-one basis with senior business people to help them become more effective – at driving performance, building effective teams, managing their stakeholders, and hopefully enjoying themselves and learning along the way.

As a business, executive coaching has been growing fast in recent years, along with the rest of the so-called “leadership development” industry. I’m someone who tends to question everything, so I’ve often asked myself what exactly leadership development means. A friend who is also a coach recently said something that caused me to stop and think: “We’re not in the leadership development business. We’re in the leader development business. There’s a difference.”

That sounded smart, and possibly important, but I wasn’t immediately sure what it meant. But it got me thinking, and the thinking led me here:

If you give me a group of 10 people who are already leaders — people who have a track record of effectively leading change — and ask me whether I could coach them to be better leaders, the answer is, on average, yes. And if you give me a group of 10 managers and ask if I could coach them to be better managers, the answer would be yes.

But if you give me 10 managers and ask me to coach them to become leaders, my answer will be, “I don’t think it works that way.”

Why not? Isn’t coaching supposed to be leadership development?

Because coaching is not a magic car wash.

Coaching is not a process where you enter as one thing – say a Ford – and come out as something completely different – a BMW (no offence to any carmakers). And leaders are very different from managers.

So, if coaching doesn’t reliably create new leaders, I started to question the other things that the leadership development departments of large companies do – things like:

  • Inviting “high potentials” to New York or London to rub shoulders with the top brass
  • Hosting dinners in exotic locations and inviting the likes of Colin Powell to give expensive after-dinner speeches
  • Assigning people to so-called “action learning” projects. These are great in theory, except that nobody has the time do them – so they generally amount to a handful of late-night global conference calls designed to get just enough done that it doesn’t look like they dropped the ball
  • ….and so on

These are all perfectly lovely things to do, but it’s pretty clear that these activities have very little to do with actually creating leaders.

All of which begs the question:


If none of the activities that companies undertake
to develop leaders actually works, then what does?


To be continued next week…

Comments 1

  1. Lester Chino

    My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content to suit your needs? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write related to here. Again, awesome web site!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *