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Want to make leadership training stick? Get an executive coach

Ken Blanchard

Organisations often underestimate the time and effort required to help leaders change. Coaching can be a great way of cementing leadership training and helping people adapt to new behaviours and coaching is most effective when you bring in the professionals to help.

Organisations often underestimate the time and effort required to help leaders change. Coaching can be a great way of cementing leadership training and helping people adapt to new behaviours and coaching is most effective when you bring in the professionals to help.

When your organisation is facing a new frontier of any kind - be it expansion into new markets, facilitating rapid company growth or turning around organisational culture - the experience can be both exciting and unnerving. It's at times like these that an executive coach can give an 'outside in' perspective which will help to clarify a smooth way forward and drive home the impact of the leadership training and development programmes that will, of course, be at the heart of facilitating the new skills your people need to drive the change and success you're aiming for.

"The most successful coaching initiatives occur when an organisation sees learning as a way to help their people develop new skills constantly instead of just 'checking a box' and saying that they completed a leadership training programme," says Patricia Overland: master certified coach and head of the coaching services division at The Ken Blanchard Company.

My aim has always been to create organisations where people are continuously learning and improving their skills, and this is where coaching really comes into its own. Take our Situational Leadership® II model, for instance:

  • It teaches leaders to adjust their leadership style based on the development level of their direct report on the grounds that a beginner on a task, for instance, requires a more directive style than someone who is experienced.

It's a common mistake to assume someone highly experienced in one aspect of their job can easily switch to a new task and perform just as well. Chances are they might not and this is where coaches can be extremely useful in ensuring what has been learned is actually put into practice.

"When a new leader applies a hands-off delegating style to a veteran employee struggling with a new task, the executive coach can step in with a mid-course correction and make that important distinction," explains Overton. "A good coach also recognises people don't learn new skills in a vacuum. Every coaching situation is unique because every human being and organisation is different."

Consider coaching as a follow-up to a 'traditional' leadership training programme

This will always greatly improve how efficiently your people will put their new skills into action back on the job. However, even the best-intentioned organisations can fall get it wrong when looking to apply coaching to support learning. These are the top three most common traps, according to Overland:

  • Underestimating the amount of follow-up people need to apply what they've learned. Change is always difficult and only a fraction of learning sticks without repetition, reminders and reinforcement. It takes time to make real change – don't underestimate how long it will take.
  • Underestimating the challenge faced to balance their workload and invest in personal development and learning. Competing priorities and time are major issues. Managers may have the best of intentions to learn and improve but as this is an aim that doesn't feel crucial to the success of the organisation and gets left at the bottom of the list. Coaching provides structured time for people to focus and helps them address their own leadership progress.
  • Underestimating the need to push for behaviour change. Change doesn't come naturally - it needs impetus behind it. Ideally, this should come from a senior leader as they are best placed to drive an initiative. One of the greatest ways to demonstrate the importance of any initiative is to have a senior leader check in on progress – this can make a huge difference.

Getting senior leadership buy-in for any change process is vital - I can't stress this enough. Even if you turn the entire coaching process over to a third party, senior leaders need to be involved every step of the way. Leadership development isn't a 'one-time' thing that you can initiate, then forget and then expect it to be done within a week, a month, a year, whatever. It's like gardening – first you plant the seed, then you water and feed it, then nurture the young plants. It's a while before you get to see your fruits harvested.

Bringing in a trusted partner and investing in coaching to support learning is the best way to make sure your training time is well spent and that you get the results you want.


Few people have influenced the day-to-day management of people and companies more than Ken Blanchard. A prominent, sought-after author, speaker, and business consultant, Dr Blanchard is universally characterised by his friends, colleagues and clients as one of the most insightful, powerful and compassionate individuals in business today. Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world and is respected for his years of ground-breaking work in the fields of leadership and management.

When Ken speaks, he speaks from the heart with warmth and humour. He is able to speak to an audience and communicate with each person as if they were alone and talking one on one. Ken is a sophisticated storyteller with a knack for making the seemingly complex easy to understand.

Ken is the cofounder and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies , an international management training and consulting firm that he and his wife, Margie Blanchard, began in 1979 in San Diego, California. In addition to being a renowned speaker and consultant, Ken also spends time as a visiting lecturer at his alma mater, Cornell University, where he is a trustee emeritus of the board of trustees.