5 Mistakes to Avoid as a Leadership Coach

Coaches can hurt leaders.

Coaches also provide tremendous value when they establish the relationship correctly and focus on helping leaders reach their goals.

Leadership Coach

Before continuing, we should first ask this question: what drives a leader to retain an executive or leadership coach?

Leaders face difficult challenges. They step back and ask “How can I lead differently to achieve different results?” If you manage large amounts of people, budgets, and  facilities, you likely struggle to know how to keep the growth curve climbing.

I recently coached a leader in that exact situation. His employees weren’t the ideal group to speak with about his challenges. His peers in other organizations concerned him as they could steal his intellectual property. He also needed to guard confidentiality of his company, personal battles, and team obstacles. His family had already had enough of his work. He needed an outside voice.

After contacting us, he realized that he needed coaching. While I can’t share a the details about his situation, I can share many of the mistakes I either made or was tempted to make.

5 Mistakes to Avoid as a Leadership Coach:

1) Tell the leader what to do.

As I learned more about his context, I immediately thought of potential solutions. But he knew more about his industry that I did. He knew more about his employee than I did.

Leaders don’t pay a leadership coach to teach them about their company. They hire a leadership coach to gain improved perspective. They need questions, not answers.

If I, as a leadership coach, gave this leader answers, I would have created a dependence on me. I would have given ideas without the full context and knowledge he had.

What did I do then? I asked questions that drove this leader to analyze his motivations, results, and most importantly his contribution to the problems he faced.

When a leadership coach tells a leader what to do, they create a model that isn’t reproducible or effective in the long-term. I struggled to withhold my advice in my head but saw the best results when I trusted his ability through questions.

2) Do the leader’s work for them.

A leadership coach must resist not only telling a client what to do, but they should never do the client’s work for them. When a coach does the work, they haven’t prepared the client to lead. They’ve simply gotten more done.

When tempted to do a client’s work, a leadership coach should ask the client what they need to do. They can also ask who else can help accomplish this task or responsibility.

When talking with this leader, I would encounter things that seemed like quick fixes. However, the quick fix usually serves as a bandaid that avoids the long-term change(s) needed.

3) Lead the client.

When coaches lead clients they place their agenda above the client’s agenda. High capacity leaders don’t need a leadership coach to lead them. They need a leadership coach to challenge and develop their leadership.

As a coach, be careful that you always prioritize the client’s agenda and what they want to accomplish. Doing so shows belief in the client and sets up the client for long-term success. It also keeps the responsibility for leadership on the client’s shoulders (where it belongs) and not on the coach.

4) Allow discussion without action.

Coaching conversations cover innumerable topics. Leaders face critical decisions daily that require their attention. If you don’t coach a client towards action, you may have talked but you likely didn’t coach.

Leaders want results and action. One of the greatest gifts a leadership coach can give is a clear focus on time management that ensures the leader leaves each conversation with a clear plan in place.

The greatest gift a leadership coach can give is a clear focus on time management. Click To Tweet

Don’t sabotage your client’s success with your inattention to action.

5) Initiate calls without clarifying the focus.

A coaching call without a focus often yields a frustrated and exhausted leader.

With the leader I mentioned above, I always found myself excited about the call content. He made changes and he saw results.

After a couple calls, I started to see my focus on call clarity start to wane. He didn’t need me to define the focus. He needed me to stop the call early on to ask him to define a win for the end of the call.

My engagement with the client and the impact he had on his company blocked my ability to see his ongoing need for clarity. Coaches must manage the progression of the call. But before the call progresses they must push the client to clarify the objective; to define the win.

These five common mistakes will impact every executive or leadership coach at some point. I know I struggled with them all as I coached the leader above.

One quick tip to keep yourself in check as a coach: Review these five common mistakes after each call and identify one you could improve.

Anyone I’ve ever coached knows I occasionally ask for permission to put on my consulting hat. You will never perfect the art of coaching. But if you find yourself with a need to consult, be honest about it. Let the client know and quickly switch back to coaching (especially if they hired you to coach). Doing so while not only clarify the coaching process for the client but also hold you accountable as a coach.

Which of these 5 mistakes do you need to work on as a leadership coach? Leave a comment below and you just might receive some free coaching resources, tips, or coaching from our community.

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