When a Coach Approach Is the Wrong Way to Go: Part Two

executive coaching blog post

When a Coach Approach Is the Wrong Way to Go: Part Two

As we discussed in part one of this post, there are certain conditions that exist that enhance a leader’s success in using a coach approach. But because a leader is first and foremost responsible to deliver organizational results through team members, it still remains that coaching is not always the most proper approach for a leaders.

When the agenda is the organizations’ vs the coachees – be directive.

Every time the leader is in a driver position, conveying instructions, requesting changes, informing of the direction, asking for more. In such cases, it has to be very clear in the mind of the leader that the agenda is the organization’s not the coachee’s. In such cases, we are not coaching (curious and serving), we are leading, directing. We might be trusting, but we are serving the organization, not the team members.

When performance doesn’t meet expectations – make a request.

Ambiguous situations are when performance does not meet expectations. In such cases, the leader who does a good job will clarify the gaps, request changes, specify consequences and offer support. This has nothing to do with coaching. I have seen leaders using a “coaching tone” to do this, with questioning and listening techniques, trying to have the team member come to their leader’s agenda. I find such practice manipulative at least. Once the gaps have been identified, the actual requested performance agreed to, the consequences understood, then, if the team member re-commits to the goal, and if there is renewed trust from the leader, we can come back to coaching and support how the person will get there. Without trust, all you have is a “coaching tone” (“I am here to help you”), that is in fact condescending.

Be clear about which hat you are wearing.

Because of the trusting relationship involved in coaching – which in fact involves co-trusting, there is a candidness and accepted vulnerability on both sides, an authentic openness. For that reason, it is important not to abuse this “sacred space” and to be clear when we are not in it anymore. The leader has a two-dimensional role – driver of performance and developer of people – and should be very cautious not to pretend that he or she is a coach at all moments of the supervisory relationship: this would be a pretense at best. Coaching is a hat, not an identity. You need to know when to wear it – always to serve the other, not self.

Therefore, when leaders choose to use coaching approaches, and even more importantly, when an organization asks from leaders that they behave more in a coaching manner, these distinctions need to be very clear for all. If not, the whole approach could lose credibility very quickly and this loss could be deeper and more durable than any gains accomplished by adding the “coaching style” to the toolbox of leaders, even those who know how to make the difference clear – because of those who won’t.

Suggested reading for the Leader-Coach: Edgar Schein, Helping, Berrett-Koehler, 2009.


Janon Hamel is a Conductor and Executive Coach at ViRTUS, specializing in emotional intelligence, Neuro-Linguistic program (NLP), leadership and organizational development, and executive coaching.

Janon Hamel
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