Leadership Coaching Programs: How To Get The 3-Legged Stool Of Success Working For You


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By: Corry Robertson, PCC

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Nobody likes a wobbly stool. And when it comes to the three-legged variety, it’s essential that each leg holds up its end of the bargain, or, well, it’s not really a stool at all, is it?

I like to think about leadership training programs as a stool, with the coaching participants, leaders, and coaches each making up one leg of the stool. When all 3 are working in unison to ensure the successful development that all parties want to achieve, we don’t have a wobbly stool. 

Often the blame for an unsuccessful leadership coaching program will be laid on one of the three legs mentioned above. “The participant was uncoachable!” someone might say. Or, “The coach didn’t have the necessary skill set”. And another take might be “the leaders didn’t participate and derailed the outcomes”. But in reality, each party must have a symbiotic relationship to ensure a positive outcome.

In this blog, I want to take a deep dive into what makes someone coachable or uncoachable and what participants, leaders, and coaches can do to enhance a safe and supportive environment for learning and growth.

Ultimately, developing coachability is a continuous process that requires effort and commitment from both the individual and those around them. By fostering a culture of coachability and actively working to enhance this trait, individuals can unlock their full potential and leadership training programs can achieve their goals. 

organization leader using expertise in front of team

Leg 1: The Importance of a Good Coach

Professional coaching has had a proven impact over the past 20 years and is now seen as a ‘must have’ offering within organizations. However, there are still WAY too many people using the term ‘coaching’ as a nice way of helping others achieve their goals. 

Coaching is a profession that requires education, training and skills. A good coach is a professional, ideally with International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentials such as ACC, PCC or MCC. They are equipped to help you achieve your goals and provide continuous feedback on your progress.

But being coached shouldn’t always feel nice, and coaches and coachees must accept the occasional discomfort for sessions to be productive. One of the outcomes of coaching is transformation, which is not always a comfortable experience.

Coaching can be uncomfortable

Good coaches understand that being uncomfortable in the coaching session can lead to breakthroughs. As one of my mentor coaches explained, coaches should all prepare to be fired!

“Sometimes you’ll make a client aware of something they don’t want to look at. Sometimes they hate that, but it’s what’s holding them back! They’ll be pissed off and hang up on you! When that happens, you’ll know you are doing your job correctly. Change is hard for everyone.”

For a good coach, facilitating client growth generally occurs in a five-step formula.

  1. The coachee uncovers fresh knowledge and understanding.
  2. This newfound understanding results in increased self-awareness.
  3. Greater self-awareness fosters a personal and emotional investment in achieving a better future.
  4. This emotional connection generates the energy necessary to establish new goals and devise plans of action.
  5. These fresh objectives and plans of action pave the way for novel outcomes that can be monitored and evaluated.
Coach talking about leadership roles

Refining the method

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to cast a dark shadow by making out like coaching is all discomfort, frustration, and abrupt endings to calls. Not at all. Most sessions bring insight and relief for solutions found and problems solved. 

How do we hone these skills? Regular coach training gives us opportunities to practice and refine our coaching skills. In a high-quality coach education program accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), participants take turns coaching one another, observing coaching sessions, and providing and receiving feedback.

As a coach educator, I appreciate the unique benefits of coaches coaching other coaches. Accomplished coaches are receptive to coaching themselves. They understand how coaching operates and feel at ease within a secure and confidential environment. They willingly delve into meaningful topics, remain open to new possibilities, and explore their awareness with guidance from their own coach. Ultimately, this leads to identifying actionable steps, as well as when and how to take them.

The Delicate Balance of Trust, Safety, and Results 

As a coach, it’s essential to strike a delicate balance between trust, safety, and results. Individuals need to feel that they can trust their coach and are in a safe and supportive environment. This allows for more open dialogue about their challenges and opportunities and allows them to explore new ideas without fear of criticism, consequences, or rejection.

At the same time, it’s essential to achieve results. Coaching is an investment, and individuals and organizations expect to see progress. Coaches need to be results-oriented and focused on helping individuals achieve their and their organization’s goals. 

To achieve this balance, coaches need to be skilled at managing coachees. This involves creating a structured process for coaching, establishing clear expectations and goals, and establishing accountability measures to track progress. It also involves providing constructive and actionable feedback and creating a positive and supportive environment that fosters growth and development.

When all of this is in place, we have a strong coaching leg for our three-legged stool.

Leader trying to motivate his team

Leg #2: The Importance of Coachable Participants

Coachable participants are prepared to roll up their sleeves and commit to learning and growing even when the going gets tough. They are willing to embrace new ideas and have a positive mindset toward growth and development.

A strong participant is vital to successful development. They need to put in the effort and have a positive mindset toward growth. Commitment and accountability must be emphasized. It is essential to show up and do the work.

A coach can show the way…..but…

You might ask: why is it essential to have a committed and active participant as one of the critical components of our leadership development program? To illustrate, let’s use an analogy about enrolling in a gym and hiring a personal trainer.

Before you start, your trainer will likely assess your fitness goals and current physical condition, orientate you, explain how to use some of the equipment, and let you try it out so you can eventually use it independently.

After that, it’s your responsibility to show up and put in the effort, right? 

Losing that extra 10 pounds or building muscle is no mean feat. It can be grueling, causing you to sweat, pant, and make ugly faces as you lift heavy weights or sprint with all your might. 

However, despite the soreness that may follow, you’ll feel proud of the effort you put in, and after a few months of consistent hard work, you’ll begin to notice results, and others will too.

The same can be said for coaching. 

We can talk about the theory all day long. We can assess the environment and the challenges and make a plan that suits the participant down to a T. However, the one thing a coach can’t do is the work itself. The coachee must be willing to put in the hard yards, change their approach and aim for growth.

When a coachee is coachable – we have the important 2nd leg of our stool.

Coach talking about leadership theory

Leg #3: The Importance of a Strong Leader

A strong leader is prepared and willing to handle the rumble when the going gets tough. They have a duty to hold their participants accountable for the investment that was made in them. 

Strong leaders and managers can’t assume that a coach will handle everything. To facilitate successful development, they must be part of the process, not waiting on the sidelines for results.

Yet again, a delicate balance between trust and safety exists here. The company is hiring a coach for the individual’s professional growth, but there is also the benefit to the overall well-being of the participant.

The Be Well, Stay Well, Do Well Sentiment

Influential leaders prioritize the well-being and contentment of their team members not only because they possess a compassionate nature and genuine concern for their colleagues but also because they recognize the pivotal role of physical and mental wellness in achieving peak performance.

Individuals who are not functioning at their normal capacity cannot possibly deliver the exceptional results demanded in today’s fast-paced and competitive environment. Strong leaders who make up the 3rd leg of our stool are tasked with promoting a philosophy of “be well, stay well, do well” as an essential prerequisite to attaining success in both personal and professional realms.

When our strong leaders are involved, holding everyone accountable, and concerned with their employees physical and mental wellness, we have the necessary 3rd leg of our stool.

Teams of people talking

Everybody! Get to Work!

Coaches, coaching participants, and leaders all must be willing to roll up their sleeves, commit to learning and growing, and put in the effort required to achieve the goal of a successful leadership coaching program. 

When a company and the growth of its employees are at stake, the delicate balance of trust, safety, and the need for commitment and accountability must be managed with the utmost care.

Undoubtedly, coaching is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. It provides individuals a safe and supportive environment to explore their challenges and opportunities and develop strategies to achieve their objectives. 

The three-legged stool of coaching for successful professional development is an interdependent relationship where each participant must hold up their end of the bargain to ensure the program’s success. Remember, one cannot exist without the other—we need all three legs on our stool!

When these three factors come together, the program can be a powerful tool for personal and professional development. Therefore, it is important to recognize the interdependence of each party in the coaching process and commit to putting in the effort required to achieve success.

Are you looking to create a successful leadership coaching program for your organization? Learn more about our leadership development programs here.


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Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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