4 Signs of a Challenging Leader

GCG Leadership Development Team

Executive coaches are often tempted to accept every engagement that comes their way—even when their gut feeling tells them to walk away—because they wholeheartedly believe in the impact of their services. Unfortunately, not every leader is willing to do what is necessary to create change, and it is the leader, above all, who must be invested in the process. The coaching engagement will be guaranteed success when applied with leaders who genuinely want to see growth within their organizations.

Additionally, as time is a limited resource, you certainly don’t want to waste the space of an executive’s schedule if they are not interested and when your services would be more helpful elsewhere. By focusing your work on clients who recognize coaching as an opportunity for business growth, both you and the invested clients will be able to experience success.

The Four Tell-tale Signs

The GCG coaching process trains coaches to look for signs of courage, humility, and discipline in leaders to ensure that they are primed for the change process. These three qualities are a must-have for leaders, and there are several situations to look out to mitigate any challenges. To help you detect any issues as early as possible, here are four tell-tale signs that a leader will likely hinder coaching success:

1. The executive doesn’t acknowledge that they have a problem.

If the leader believes that their ineffective behavior is working fine despite feedback from those around them, it will be a challenge to convince them to change, since in their perception there is no issue. This is different from a leader who is defensive about their flaws—the leaders we are referring to here will completely deny any issue. Still, you might wonder what you could do to convince them that change is good.

The truth: nothing really. This realization can only come from the inside.

2. The executive is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.

If your client is already heading in the wrong direction regarding business decisions, your coaching is likely to only get them there faster (as you are not a business coach but a leadership coach). You can discover if this may be the case through a quick conversation with HR before you start the engagement.

3. The executive is in the wrong job.

It happens that people fall into the wrong position or wrong company when their skills and talents are more appropriate elsewhere. These leaders may be unmotivated to make a difference and feel as if they are supposed to be doing something else.

Ask your client: “If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If you hear “relieved,” then this is a sign that no matter what you do, it won’t help them in the position they are currently in.

4. The executive blames others for problems.

It is virtually impossible to help leaders who can’t accept responsibility and prefer to point fingers. The fact is that other people’s behaviors are out of their control. You will have a hard time convincing them to work on themselves instead.

Once any of these red flags are raised, you should consider that the best way forward for you and the client is if you move on from the engagement. After all, you don’t want to waste your own and their time working towards an unattainable goal. Additionally, the leader and the HR department will appreciate your honest assessment of the situation. Moving forward, you’ll be available to pursue other coaching engagements with leaders who understand the benefits of coaching and are dedicated to the challenging, but highly rewarding process.


At GCG, we provide coaches with all the resources, tools, and technology they need to support leaders to go to the next level in their professional performance while engaging their teams. Learn more about our coaching certification programs.


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GCG Leadership Development Team

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