Monday, February 21, 2011


The paper is an assessment of effect of executive coaching (as described in Sherpa Survey) on leadership development from my perspective as a skilled and experienced professional in the field of organization design with special focus on leadership development and business evolution.

My approach to leadership development has evolved over 50 years of conscious experience including:

• Academic background in sciences; pre-medical course, degrees in chemistry and zoology.

• Training and qualification by Procter & Gamble as a superior practitioner of Industrial Engineering.

• Manager of several highly successful P & G manufacturing operations.

• Widely recognized leader of design, construction, startup, operation and expansion of the P & G manufacturing center at Lima, OH; international prototype of high performing business organizations.

• Vice-President Personnel and Organization Development for SaraLee, hired for a specially created role designed to lead the meats division in developing a change oriented culture. Role objectives were achieved or exceeded within 3 years, at which time I set up a consulting business.

• Consultant to more than 60 organizations with leadership development as the primary subject.

• Designer/presenter of copyrighted “The Leadership Development Forum” (LDF.) LDF has been delivered in 7 countries to more than 2000 executives, professionals and promising leaders in key roles. My practice is to always deliver LDF with an internal partner(s).

• Elected officer/leader in more than 15 clubs and civic organizations.

I have reached this conclusion: “Executive coaching will not in any circumstance produce development of any kind, least of all leadership development. It may in fact have a counterproductive effect.” This conclusion is based on following reasoning:

Feedback from Senior Executives

Senior executives from eight corporations have approached me with concerns about executive coaching.

• In all cases they were assigned a coach by a superior (often CEO/COO) who had been sold on the process by a coaching firm. If given the option they would have declined.

• They felt obligated to find something of value in the process and approached me for suggestions on how to do this.

• In some cases they believed the coach was involved in their performance appraisals; a highly unethical practice.

Leadership Development

• Development only takes place in the presence of real work, in the same context where the work is performed and contribution is expected. This is particularly true of leadership development where context must include those who are to respond to leaders influence.

• Executive coaching is a one to one process that takes place away from real work/real time arena.

• Therefore, executive coaching when applied to leadership is an artificial, off-line process that may produce an illusion of increased capability which fails the test of application. (LDF requires participants to attend as part of a natural work group.)


• Coaching is commonly defined; “a process that supports, explains, demonstrates, instructs and directs others via encouragement, questioning and use of feedback for guidance as trainee grows in skill and self-empowerment through practice.” Coaches are expected to understand/master skill they aim to impart based on personal experience, and expect trainee to exceed their performance.

• Executive coaches “as a general rule; do not share experience, do not give advice, do not impart specific knowledge.” (Sherpa Survey) (LDF introduces new concepts in leadership, directs practice through designed exercises and calls on participants to share experience in open forum.)

• Therefore, executive coaching is something other than coaching in terms of common definition and understanding of what coaching is and does.


Sherpa Survey asserts that executive coaches are trained facilitators, presumably using a process of facilitation.

• Facilitation is commonly understood and practiced by OD professionals as a process of making a task easier, smoothing the path to a result.

• Leaders especially at executive level, require steadfast will to step up to difficult challenges and stay engaged through good times and bad until resolution is achieved.

• Therefore; facilitation fails to present would be leaders a real world picture of their leadership accountability and offers them the illusion of an easy way out. (LDF sessions are focused on current, real issues that the group is accountable for, and participants test/apply newly acquired leadership skills during and between sessions.)


• Sherpa Survey points to trend of certifying coaches via classroom training and that certified coaches make more money; get more work.

• No reference is made to actual, successful experience of leading as a valued asset. (For some time MBA graduates performance has been downgraded by their employers because academic training in leadership does not apply to real world. As a result many MBA schools have revised their approach.)

• Sherpa Survey; “Having an executive coach could be a status symbol…a mark of an up and coming leader being groomed for greater possibilities.”

• Therefore, we have a hollow process in support of shallow intentions.

Self-Reflection on Leadership Development

For anyone seeking to develop leadership capability, use of the following questions as means for objective self-reflection can clarify what they aim to become and how to best go about doing it.

1. What new, higher purpose will my leadership be dedicated to achieve?

2. What change in self (mind-sets, attitude, skill level) is necessary to fulfill purpose? State in terms of from _____to_______.

3. What issues of capability are likely to restrain implementing these changes?

4. What learning objectives, principles, goals, standards and design/actions will I pursue in order to resolve capability issues?

5. What sources are able to partner with me in successfully working though steps 4-3-2-1?

Principles that guide this approach:

• In order to develop, a person must be in charge of and accountable for the process. It is disempowering for organization or external authority to call the shots, resulting in death of leadership development potential.

• Developmental resources are most effective when they establish a partnership relationship.

• An effective resource is tuned to individuals thinking through steps 1-5 and works with him/her to clarify and refine as needed, in real world, real time, real context dimensions.

• Individuals have specific accountability to the organization for improved performance and contribution, as return on organizations investment in their development.

• Serving a greater purpose is necessary to stick with demands of leadership development…self-serving motives will cause the process to fail.