So You and Your Executive Coach are Not a Match

So you’re feeling a mismatch with your executive coach.  It’s time to bring clarity to the relationship - and to your investment of time, resources, and trust.   

Steps you can take 

If your relationship with your coach isn't working, it’s a waste of time and resources for you – and for your coach.  The ACTS Cycle for Change that Sticks will help you move from frustrated to realigned.  

1. AspireExpectations Clarity 

It’s frustrating when our current reality isn’t meeting up with our expectations.  There is something you expected that isn’t happening the way you thought it would.  In Step 1, Aspire, take a quality moment to envision your ideal coaching relationship and your expectations.  The question to ask is:  If this coaching relationship was working great today, what would be happening?  How is my coach helping me accomplish the results I envision?  What do our conversations look like?  Feel like?  What happens between coaching conversations?  How do you know it is going well?  What is your measure of success?  Is it concrete or more intangible or qualitative?   

Be clear with your expectations.  According to a Stanford survey, CEOs engage coaching to improve in these top four areas: sharing leadership and delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring.  And a whopping 43% of CEOs ranked conflict management the highest.  Perhaps were you expecting differing results in one of these key areas?  If so, what would success look like?  

Whether you choose to improve the relationship, to pursue a new coach, or you decide to hit the coaching pause-button, the first step is to be clear on what great results are intended to look like.   

2. Clarify:  Reality Clarity 

Step 2 is a reality check.  What is currently working, and what’s not working?  Because coaching is a very personal experience, getting clarity about what is causing the mismatch will help you in sorting things out.   

Clarification requires reflection.  Spend 10 minutes jotting down why you sense a mismatch.  Use four columns and note why its not working based on the coachs contributionsyour contributions, the situation, or the unmet results.   

Perhaps it’s a chemistry or style issue.  Does the coach talk too little or too much? Is the approach too vague or too structured?  Are you seeing the progress you expected?  Sometimes it’s something that happened. Was it a specific focus of discussion that grew uncomfortable?  Maybe it was a response or exercise that wasn’t aligned with your expectations. Or something the coach said that seemed to confirm they just didn’t get your situation, your needs.   

According to the Stanford study, one of the key reasons executive coaching fails is because the process is private, confidential.  Think about it.  The top 4 issues CEOs identified - successful sharing of leadership and delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring – they ALL require the participation of others!  Yet others are rarely brought into the coaching discussion and work.  To help, many coaches offer a combination of executive and team coaching to align individual coaching progress with team and organizational results.  

Sometimes itnot working because a coachee isn’t following up on the actions they commit to.   In these instances, it can be easier to blame someone or something else rather than figure out why you’re not holding yourself accountable. Here is a helpful diagnostic to determine your readiness for coaching.  And stay tuned for an upcoming article, “Signs an Executive Isn't Ready for Coaching. 

Personally, when I’ve sensed a mismatch with a client I’ve walked through these same questions to better understand the mismatch.  I like to start with what steps are within my control that I can take to improve the coaching relationships and results.  In Step 3, below, I’ll give an example. 

3. Transform:  Bridge Clarity  

Transform is about taking the first steps to bridge the gap between your current reality, and what you expect.    

First, have an honest conversation with your coach 

You are now clear on both your how you believe it should be and your current reality.  Now its time to bridge the gap.  Begin with an honest conversation with your coach. Share your aspirations and expectations followed by clearly describing what’s working and what isn’t.  Include what you would like to do differently.  Ask your coach to give his or her perspective.  Every good coach is committed to a best fit and results for their clients.   

If this discussion seems productive and your goals are aligned, then consider moving forward with a plan adjusted to meet your shared goals. Be sure to define a clear trial period with a milestone to evaluate results.  This will give your coach a fair chance to align his or her methods. 

Once, as a coach, I sensed a mismatch with an executive who, after a powerful initial couple of months of increasing self-awareness and clarity building, I could sense our traditional coaching process no longer worked. I could actually sense his leg impatiently shaking during our coaching calls!  I initiated a conversation around what was working and what wasn’t. Together we tweaked our coaching format to include what we called “power coaching sessions” that focused almost exclusively on accountability. We capitalized on the executive’s strength in personal reflection and taking action, and my strength as a catalyst for insight and accountability.  

If your discussion doesn’t go as well as ours did, you will want to begin the steps to engage a new coach.  And sometimes this is the best next step.   

Note: Sometimes executive coaches are engaged through an internal resource, such as HR.  If you decide that the relationship with your coach isn’t working and you’ve already discussed your concerns with your coach, then it’s important to inform the internal resource.  Share the steps you’ve taken to address your concerns and your resulting decision.  Because you’ve already Aspired and Clarified, you will demonstrate the proactive problem solving you’ve engaged prior to talking with them they’ll be more likely to support your decision. 

Second, establish clear expectations for moving forward. 

Whether you decide to continue with your existing coach, pursue a new coach, or push the coaching pause-button, it is essential you clarify expectations - for yourself and for the coach. Remember, unmet expectations are fuel for frustration.  Often, psychologists describe frustration as low-grade anger.  Moving forward, your job is to own the clarity that will drive success and avoid a repeat of frustration that might grow into anger.  

I really like this quote from entrepreneur Marie Forleo, “Clarity = Power. The more clear you are on exactly what you want and why you want it, the faster and easier it’s gonna be for you to create results.”   

While the action planning and initial steps taken in the Transform stage are essential, they rarely result in long-term change.  And the Sustain step helps change stick.    

4. Sustain: Traction Clarity  

A strong Sustain phase is the difference between a good start and actually crossing the finish line.  Sustain is about traction.  70% of organizational change efforts fail.  We’ve all heard this statistic since the ‘80s.  The reality is:    





In my work, the Sustain phase sets an executive up for the greatest odds of success.  How?  By creating and executing a plan for consistent, unwavering accountability for changed action.  I often ask, “What is your rhythm for accountability?”  How will you hold yourself accountable – and your coach.  How will you create accountability for the new behaviors you’ve clarified as essential for success?  How will success be measured? How often will you check in on progress and alignment?   

30 years of coaching experience proves, without maintaining a rhythm for change accountability, the forces that maintain the status quo will win out, creating . . . you guessed it. . . frustration and a sense of a mismatch with your executive coach.  I recommend a minimum of 6 months of coaching, post-Transform phase, to sustain lasting change.  

The Key Takeaway 

If you’re sensing a mismatch with your executive coach, and you’re just not seeing the results you expected, the ACTS Cycle for Change that Sticks will help you gain the clarity you need to move forward.  

Aspire: Expectations Clarity 

Clarify: Reality Clarity 

Transform: BridgClarity 

Sustain: Traction Clarity 

If you are an executive or HiPo (high-performingleader who is beginning a coaching engagement or for whom confusion, change, or conflict is distracting from results, you need more than a desire to improve your leadership capabilities. You also need to understand how to get the most from your work with an executive coach.  We’re Clarity Catalysts and we can help! 

Please reach out to me directly here for a complimentary consultation so that I can help you make a good decision when it comes to choosing the best executive coach for you. 


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