Clients a Leadership Coach Can’t Help

It’s important to point out that leadership coaches are reluctant to take on some coaching clients because the workplace situation they face is already irreparable or close to it.

In my experience, the most common error made by these potential clients is waiting far too long to address inappropriate behavior or deteriorating workplace dynamics.  Examples can include:workplaceconflict

  • Situations in which a leader’s relationship with a boss or board has reached such a low point that the client is close to being fired (and the best option is to seek other employment).

  • Scenarios in which a previously functional work environment has devolved into blaming and character assassination, individual success trumping group success, the gap between expressed values versus actual behavior is growing, or leadership is either complicit or unwilling to hold individuals accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.
  • Workplaces in which the potential client has failed to adequately supervise direct reports regarding their poor behavior or performance, leaving termination as the only option (call HR, not a coach).
  • Organizations in decline due to a worsening business environment or budget cuts where  employees engage in “lifeboat economics,” i.e. conspiring in small groups about which of their co-workers should be thrown overboard to save themselves.

A potential client’s continued inaction regarding deteriorating workplace relationships can have many reasons:

  • Knowing what needs to change but being uncertain about how to bring it about
  • Lacking the skills or the confidence to address the situation
  • Being conflict-averse
  • Reluctance to speak up or advocate for oneself or others
  • Fear of losing one’s job
  • Reluctance or inability to hold others accountable for their behavior
  • Being overly optimistic about the workplace turning around
  • Denial regarding the extent and rate of workplace devolution

The moral of the story?  Pay close attention to your work environment and your key workplace relationships, and take proactive steps early on if you sense that something’s amiss:

  • Check out your perceptions with trusted colleagues inside and outside of the organization
  • Diplomatically voice your concerns and listen carefully to the response of others (e.g., “I’m confused…we keep saying that collaboration is a key value but it appears that we’re actually hiding in our silos and competing more…”).
  • Sailors have a a valuable saying:  “If you find yourself thinking about reefing your sails because of increasing winds, it’s time to do it.”  If you’ve been thinking about engaging a leadership coach to help sort out your options, do it sooner rather than later.