Top three reasons most leadership coaching fails. (You aren't gonna like number three)


By Todd Mitchem

Aside from running multiple companies over the years, I have been a leadership coach for over two thousand leaders across the world in companies like Purina, H&R Block, and others. I have seen it all over my last fifteen years of coaching, so today I write you a very honest and raw article to outline why I have witnessed most coaching fail and what you can do about it if you are considering hiring a leadership coach either for yourself or your company.

First, let's get honest about what a coach is and what he or she is supposed to do for you as a leader. A coach is a qualified person who can see your shortcomings with a simple conversation. We who coach full time are tuned into human behavior, and we understand what triggers people on a deeply personal level. That's the job. It's this understanding which gives us the ability to isolate a person's core issues and help them discover how to knock these down fast. 

A coach is NOT a therapist. Therapy is for searching your feelings and has no end game, where coaching has a start, a middle, and at some point, a set of solutions that will be implemented for core issues. While more issues may make the engagement last longer, each issue is seen as a target to hit. But coaches are not feel good counselors. If your's is, you have the wrong coach. Think about a coach in professional sports, are they feel good or are they tough on players? If you want to truly break barriers then you MUST get a coach who will push you continually. 

Without further delay, here are my top three reasons most leadership coaches fail and what you can do about it.

1. Lack of commitment by the company - I literally just had the following conversation with a potential client today.

Me: “I coach leaders to dig deep and change themselves from the inside and its hard work.”

Possible Client: “What if you just coach for better accountability?”

Me: “That will be the result, but I’m different than any other coach. I work on real world and honest issues.”

Possible Client: “Can’t you just teach some simple tools?”

Me: “Do you want a simple leader?”

Possible Client: “No we want great leaders.”

Me: “I think you just answered your own question. I don’t do "basic" anything. I change people from the inside out.”

Possible Client: “We are not ready for that.”

Me: “Then call me when you are ready to be brilliant.”

Look, I get it, harsh response right? So what? We live in a society where we are told mediocre is fine to survive, but a coach's job is to create thriving and excellent leaders. Any coach who only does simple skills-based learning is worthless. Yes, I wrote that, worthless. Who cares if you hold someone accountable if you are a terrible leader and you treat accountability as a buzzword checkbox? No one. No one ever followed a leader who was average, and I believe you can't do epic shit with simple people. Period. Companies are the real first problem. I have seen top leaders claim to want change in their organization and to their fellow leaders only to have them completely ignore the process and length of time it takes to change behavior. 

For example, good coaching to change leaders into brilliance is not fast. If I am meeting with a leader for an hour a week, we will get things done, but only if we take time to unpack everything in their minds. Companies MUST understand this concept.  So what is the absolute minimum commitment a company must make in a person? It depends on the person and the goals to be achieved, but I would NEVER coach a leader less than three months. Twelve is preferred. This gives me time to really do a deep dive into their mind, their philosophy and their past, which guides behavior. The process of isolating a problem is daunting, but a good coach knows can get there if the company is committed. 

Coaching is also expensive. My fees start at $9,500 per person, per quarter and go up from there if I need to travel.  Yes that is costly, and for a year the fee reaches over $40,000 per leader, but what is your leader worth to you? I have seen companies blow millions on useless training initiatives that never work, but struggle with paying for a leadership coach. This is odd when you realize that a single leadership coach impacting ten leaders in your company over a year, can impact the ENTIRE company for thirty years! That's a good investment. So if you are reading this and are not committed to the cost, time and effort needed to get a great leader developed, perhaps you should just stop trying and keep wasting money on new hire after new hire. Rather than invest in a coach who can help you truly make change happen, you can just stick to the rut you are in, but don't come crying to me when you fail.

Leadership is hard and not natural. People need tools, learning and coaching to truly excel. If you hired a good leader and you want them to constantly improve then you need to invest the time and money to make it happen. There is no time for "half-assed" effort by a company when it's committing to a leader's growth.

2. The leader is not teachable - Another classic failure moment is when I sit down with a new coaching client leader and I realize in the first five sentences that he or she is not committed to their growth. I have turned down as much coaching as I have accepted simply for this reason. So if you are a leader who your company took time and money to invest in your growth, drop your self-important non-learner mindset and get your head on straight. If I am in the room with you, then you better realize I came to work, on YOU. Not committing fully to the process of learning is a great deal like being a parent who never takes the time to learn to change a diaper. Eventually, the shit piles up and it stinks. That is your future as a leader if you don't make the commitment to your own learning. You will stink.

Look, I don't mean to punch you between the eyes but learning in life is never over or finished. There is no finish line around learning except death. Do yourself and your career a favor and adopt the heart of a learner. By becoming teachable, you will start to harness the attitude that prepares you for high-end coaching. Again, re-read what I wrote above, your company could spend over $40,000 a year on your coaching, and if I am in the room I am there to make you better. We will have breakthroughs, changes and you will leave the experience better than when you came in, but none of that will work unless you are teachable and humble. 

3. The coach sucks - Sorry other coaches, but many of you suck. You just do. So many people feel they can coach because they were leaders or because they just "know people." What a joke. That's like saying I should lead a complex military operation because I am so damn good at a shooting style video game. Nonsense! It took me over five years to just learn the right skills to be a good coach, and I had to work alongside one of the most brutal, thoughtful, tough leaders I have ever known. I hated and adored him at the same time because he pushed me where others would not. Then I had to go on and put my own coaching to work so that I could succeed and fail while building my own team, my own companies and selling them. I needed to be the "proof in the pudding" and not just someone who sells tools and short-term success. After all that hard work, I was ready to take my skills as a leader and go coach others. But it was not easy and most "coaches" have not done the work. Does your coach have that level of experience? Have they been through the hell of a good leader and come out the other side better? No? How many people have they coached to success? How many industries have they led in? How many times have they applied their learning to their life? If your coach does not have key answers to these questions, then they most likely suck. RUN!

Coaching is a game of the other person and your coach can't "phone it in" to be effective. When I coach someone I spend hours understanding them, talking about their childhood, learning about their leadership philosophy and then more hours researching the company, the division, and the team. I want to know everything about their current behaviors so I can motivate a lasting change, but most leaders use a playbook of nonsense and keywords they think will work. Most coaches fail miserably because they lack these skills and because they were never really leaders in the first place. 


A leadership coach should have been a leader, learned skills to unlock potential in a person and should know like the back of their hand how to leverage the day to day real environment of their coaching client to drive change. If your coach can't do these things then they are worthless. Take the time and money to invest in good quality people who know their stuff. 

The bottom line is that great leaders need great coaches, but not everyone is made equal when it comes to leading a leader.  

Todd Mitchem

Author, Speaker, Leadership Coach, Devoted Husband and Father for comments or post below.





Learn more from Todd's book, YOU, DISRUPTED available now everywhere books are sold. For an autographed copy sent directly from Todd, email



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