What an Executive Coach Can’t Fix


There are few things more satisfying than coaching an executive toward success. But sometimes, it isn’t possible.

That’s because executive positions require a wide set of capabilities, some of which are simply innate. Any basketball coach knows that you can’t coach tall. In the same way, there are some things an executive coach can’t fix.

Our goal is to provide the maximum value through our executive coaching engagements. To that end, we’re upfront with our analysis of skills. We identify performance gaps, focusing coaching effort on the ones that can be bridged as opposed to wasting it on the ones that can’t.

Want to get the most value possible from executive coaching? Don’t use it as a hammer to pound away at a screw. Choose coaching engagements for individuals and contexts where it can add value.

To that end, here’s what an executive coach can’t fix, what they can, and how we tell the difference.

Executive coaching isn’t designed to teach hard skills.

Like executive positions themselves, executive coaching engagements aren’t focused around hard skills. This may seem self-evident, but it’s worth clarifying because there may occasionally be overlapping responsibilities.

If a CFO lacks tactical accounting knowledge that’s necessary for job performance – well, they’re almost definitely in the wrong seat. Regardless, their best hope would be in tactical training, not in executive coaching.

The same goes for any hard skill. 

Executive coaching can’t teach intelligence.

Thankfully, this particular un-coachable problem is rare. The vast majority of executives rise into roles on the basis of intelligence, not in spite of it.

Yet there are some individuals who’ve found themselves in executive roles without the mental capacity to succeed. If that’s the reality, while dealing with it may hurt, it’s also the kindest way forward for all involved. Executives stretched past capacity hurt their organizations and struggle personally as they’re repeatedly forced to deal with failure. 

Executive coaching can’t fix character.

Unfortunately, character deficiencies are a bit more common. Some executives are simply vicious. They may have risen through an organization on the basis of results, but they certainly won’t have gained support from those under them along the way.

Executive coaching can help individuals to navigate their behaviors and how they’re perceived. It can’t make people nice. 

It’s also worth broadening this point outside of a strictly moral context. If the nature of an individual is at odds with the nature of a position, coaching won’t help. For instance, somebody with a deeply individualistic character will struggle to lead and support a team. 

Executive coaching can’t improve willingness.

Lastly, executive coaching can’t affect an individual’s innate desire to change. Or, put another way: if an individual is vehemently opposed to getting executive coaching, it’ll probably be less effective.

Some people simply have a static mindset – they don’t want to grow. Coaching isn’t ideal for these people. It’s most valuable for individuals with a growth mindset – those with an innate desire to continually process information, learn, grow, and improve. 

What can executive coaching fix?

While executive coaching can’t change innate characteristics or teach hard skills, it can impact areas that are crucial to executive success: emotional intelligence and the soft (but vital) skills of leadership. 

Communication skills. People management skills. The ability to diagnosis and impact corporate culture. The ability to enact an agenda. The ability to lead.

These tend to be the main factors in executive success, and they’re also the factors where coaching is most impactful.

The Good News

Executive coaching can’t fix everything. But it can benefit the vast majority of executives. We’d estimate that around 85% of the individuals we evaluate for coaching are well-suited to benefit from it.

And gray areas are okay. There aren’t only “perfect fits” and “non-fits” – people are too nuanced for that. In reality, almost everyone has areas where they’re well-suited for roles, and areas where they’ll need to adapt. Coaching helps. 

The key is honest assessment. That’s why we perform 360 assessments prior to coaching, so that we can get an idea of what areas can most efficiently be improved – and so that we can give organizations and individuals an idea of where there will likely be tensions to manage.

Ready to take the next step?

At Emily Bermes + Associates, we’ve worked with executives across organizations, from Fortune 100 companies to industry-shifting startups, with a success rate of virtually 100%. We can’t coach tall, but we can coach executive skills.

Not every individual can succeed in an executive role. But we’re confident that if they can, we can help make it happen.

If you’re looking for growth through a new approach, let’s talk.