The Hidden Reasons Why Coaching Fails

Sometimes you are called in to make something that failed work again. The only worse thing that can happen is for people to give up when they fail the first time. Working with business or individual coaching clients, some have had their previous coaching attempts fail. A lot of them give up. Some of them take another try—fortunately. So, what are the hidden reasons why coaching fails?

It does happen in psychotherapy and counselling sometimes also. But the higher level of standardisation when it comes to knowledge and experience makes the risk lower—lower than with coaching. With business coaching the rate of failure I have seen is much higher. How much higher depends on the state of human resource atmosphere, country, culture and industry, but it is higher in general.

I don’t blame the clients when they lose all interest in repairing the sower aftertaste after their coaching attempts have failed. Some will end up thinking it’s just a lot of hot air. Even more so because often reasons why coaching fails are hidden.

However, some of them don’t give up and manage to repair that aftertaste at the end. Obviously there are many reasons why coaching attempts fail. But there are some that are not the most obvious ones and often skip under the radar. Here are some of the most common but not as obvious reasons why coaching fails.

No contract for change

Others cannot be changed. This is the main premise in therapy and clients adopt it quickly. But when coaching—I don’t know whether it’s the business culture or the self-absorption of some of the leaders—people just do not want to accept it.

You cannot change other people—be it your boss, the members of your team or your colleagues. It just doesn’t happen.

But you can change yourself. And coaching can help when you not only realise this but also agree to do it. So, no contract between you and the coach (and your boss) to change means no change will occur. This is one of the most common reasons why coaching fails.

(Related reading: Changing Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Change)

Lack of personal contact, trust and relationship

Would you be comfortable telling a stranger who you don’t trust about things you perceive as your faults? It doesn’t matter if they actually are or not as long as you perceive them that way. Would you be comfortable working with a coach you don’t trust? How does a relationship develop when you don’t trust? It doesn’t!

And when there is no trust and no relationship it also means that no change will happen. One of the main reasons people—especially corporates that are offered coaching as part of their professional development—do not change is the fact that they perceive their coaches as a threat—as someone working for their boss and telling on them.

Coaching should be far from that. Even more so, it is the coach’s and the employer’s responsibility—not the employee’s—to make sure they transparently communicate this fact and prepare the breeding ground for trust to grow. Don’t do that as a coach and coaching will fail.

(Related reading: Importance and Impact of the Coaching Relationship)

The boss and/or the client thinks coaching is fixing

As your boss or the HR head calls you in for a three-way meeting with your coach, what you are probably thinking at that time is “OK, this is my last chance to keep my job”.

Wrong! Well, wrong at least when I am sitting in that meeting—and I usually won’t be sitting there if the boss thinks they can fix you.

Coaching is not fixing people without potential. Coaching is investing in people that have the potential but they are not they are not using it—maybe not seeing it even. Coaching is getting the best out of people and helping them meet not only their professional goals but also their personal goals—such as integrating career and life.

The coach acts as one-up

I think this one is one of the most toxic reasons why coaching fails and one that a lot of coaches are guilty of.

Coaching is not mentoring—they are two different things. But even if you have a coach and mentor in one person, that does not mean that that’s not a relationship between two independent and autonomous adults.

Unfortunately, I have seen some coaches not really living by the rule that everyone is OK and that’s also what was seen from the relationship they had with their clients.

A coach needs to have a position in the way that they treat their client as a person and that it is only their skills, inner drives, motivation and relationships that they are working on. Coach is not someone that is better than you; they are not someone that knows better; they are just someone that is there to help you get out of the loop—whatever loop that might be that is not working for you.

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