Executive Coaching: Fixes vs. Cures

OK, it’s time for a little bit of a rant. I was talking to an executive last week, someone who had wanted to work with me as a coach, and then got “mandated” a coach and a coaching process by his organization.

He talked to me about how he just had a “360” done for him. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with this phrase, that means that a number of people, some at his level in the organization, some above him, and some at the level below – most likely the people that report to him directly – shared their perceptions of his strengths and weaknesses as a leader and manager. Then their insights were compiled and given to him in some kind of summary form.) He told me that 3 issues had come up, and that the powers that be were getting him a coach to focus specifically on one of these issues, through a series of six brief sessions. The implication was that he would also just somehow magically “fix” the other two, now that he knows what they are.


This is my pet peeve about how executive coaching is often conducted: it’s very symptomatic, and rarely gets to the underlying issues. It’s like the person gets told, “you have a cough, a runny nose, and some congestion in your chest. Take these cough drops; here are some Kleenex; and be sure to wear a nice warm coat when you go out. OK, you’re fixed!”

Instead, I believe executive coaching should focus on how those “symptoms” are connected, and therefore what the underlying problem is – and how to solve that. Is it just a cold? Is it pneumonia? Is it allergies? Each of those would require a very different approach to address the real problem.

With the person I was talking to – a lovely guy, by the way – I know him well enough to have connected the dots as we were talking. I could see how the three issues that came up arose out of his “wiring” as a person: that all three were the result of his over-reliance on some of his core strengths. I felt that in order to address these issues, he was going to need to develop some new, complementary skills, and then to create a mental framework for recognizing situations best suited to his “old” approaches and those that would most benefit from his newly developed skills.

But sadly, I’m not going to have the chance to work with him in that way.

Unless, a year from now, he’s still “coughing” – in which case his boss might decide he needs to take a deeper look at why and what to do about it…

Posted in News

About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

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