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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Executive coaching can be an effective tool for developing corporate leaders. But many leaders, when hiring a coach for the first time, don't have a frame of reference for what executive coaching is and is not. Without this, it is difficult to know what to expect or avoid.

Leaders hire coaches for many reasons: to help them fill a particular skills gap; to help achieve a defined result; or to engage a trusted adviser.

An effective coaching process is structured, accountable and measurable. Effective coaching includes assessment and measurement, meaningful coaching conversations that occur in person, through video or on the phone, and constant monitoring and evaluation of progress and results. When required, coaching shifts to leadership development – delegation, influencing, and so forth.

So why does executive coaching sometimes fail?

When hiring a coach, the advice is buyer beware. The coaching industry is not regulated, so anyone can call themselves a coach.

The lesson for leaders is to be clear about what they want in a coach with respect to the coach's skill set and experiences, and why they want coaching. An executive coaching experience for six months is a significant financial investment, so be an informed buyer: Check out the coach's references and the validity of their credentials.

The more informed a leader is about the coaching process, the greater the opportunity to benefit from coaching.

Following are seven reasons why coaching may fail.

1. The leader fails to test their readiness and openness to be coached. David Veale, CEO of Vision Coaching, says: "Coaching is doomed if the client is not open to be challenged and lacks commitment to the coaching process." Take this five-minute self-check to determine whether you are coachable.

2. The leader does not participate in a coach-leader matching process. Not every coach will be a good fit for every leader. Before hiring a coach, interview them to ensure there is a good fit.

3. Coaching objectives are not clearly defined. Without a clearly defined set of goals, coaching can quickly can go from a neat idea to being just another item to fit into a busy schedule.

4. Progress is not measured and monitored. Coaching is goal-oriented. Without goals, there is no way to validate the benefits or return on investment from coaching.

5. There is no discipline in place to set up coaching meetings. Coaching meetings that occur without a defined agenda, consistent follow-up on progress from the last meeting, focused conversation, and agreement on what will be done between meetings often miss the mark.

6. A lack of mechanisms to give the coach feedback. The coach's job is to support the leader to achieve their goals. A coach requires feedback to ensure they are meeting the leader's needs.

7. The leader fails to see how they can apply the coaching conversation to their real world. If coaching conversations are not transportable to the leader's daily functions, the value of coaching may be hard to ascertain.

Leaders can improve their odds of getting something worthwhile from coaching by ensuring they understand what they need, and how the process works. Coaching fails when a leader is not aware of the commitment and requirements for successful coaching. Coaching is dependent on a skilled coach, a defined coaching process and a motivated leader.

Bill Howat Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt HR Consulting in Kentville, N.S. The company has developed a proprietary coaching framework in partnership with V1 Coaching Inc. of Saint John, N.B.