The top 5 reasons why coaching “doesn’t work!”

What are the reasons that could prevent a successful outcome from working with a business coach? Here are the top 5 reasons why coaching “doesn’t work!”


I wasn’t sure that this coaching idea would work in the first place. I tried it out – it didn’t do that much good. As I guessed, this was kind of a waste of time! Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination. In other words, the more that leaders commit to coaching and behavior change because they believe in the process, the more the process is likely to work. The more they feel that the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually “trying it out” – the less likely the coaching process is to work.


I had no idea that this process would take so long. I am not sure that it is worth it! Goal-setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Everything seems to take longer than we think that it should! When the time elapsed in working toward our goal starts exceeding expectations, we are tempted to just give up on the goal. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population.


This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. It sounded so simple when we were starting out! The optimism bias of goal-setters applies to difficulty as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think it will – it requires more hard work! Leaders often confuse two terms that appear to be synonymous – but are actually quite different – simple and easy. We want to believe that once we understand a simple concept, it will be easy to execute a plan and achieve results. If this were true everyone who understood that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. Diet books are almost always at the top of the best seller lists. Our challenge for getting in shape – as well as for changing leadership behavior – is not understanding, it is doing!


I would really like to work toward my goal, but my company is facing a unique challenge right now. It might be better if I just stopped and did this at a time when things weren’t so crazy. Goal setters have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably appear throughout the year. One good counsel that a coach can give a business owner is, “I am not sure what crisis will appear – but I am almost positive that some crisis will appear!” In some cases, the distraction or crisis may result from a problem – in other cases it may result from an opportunity.


Why am I working so hard at becoming a more effective owner? After all of my effort – we still didn’t make any more money this year! Goal setters tend to become disappointed when the achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into the achievement of other goals. For example, a dieter who loses weight may give up on his weight loss effort when women don’t immediately begin to love him.


I think that I did actually get better when I had a coach, but I have let it slide since then. What am I supposed to do – work on this stuff the rest of my life? Once a goal-setter has put in all of the effort needed to achieve a goal, it can be tough to face the reality of maintaining changed behavior. One of the first reactions of many dieters upon reaching their weight goal is to think, “This is great! Now I can start eating again. Let’s celebrate with some pizza and beer!” Of course this mind-set leads to future weight gain and the “yo-yo” effect that is unfortunately so common in dieters.

In Summary

Coaches can either help leaders set goals that increase their probability of long-term change, or help leaders set goals that may feel good in the short-term – but lead to disillusionment and “giving up” in the long-term.
In reality there is no “easy answer” – real change requires real effort. The “quick fix” is seldom a “meaningful fix”. Distractions and competing responses are going to happen – and the higher the level of the business owner – the more likely that will happen. Improving leadership skills – like getting in shape – won’t solve all of life’s problems. And finally great leadership is something that leaders need to commit to for the rest of their careers – at least if they really want to be great!
All of these messages may sound “tough”, but at least they are real. Successful people are not afraid of challenging goals. In fact – clear, specific goals that produce a lot of challenge – tend to produce the best results!
Coaches that have the courage to tell the truth “up-front” and challenge leaders in goal-setting can go beyond being “highly paid friends”. Honest, challenging coaches can help leaders make a real difference – both in their organizations and in the lives of the people they lead.

With thanks to Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith