Beware the Non-Leadership Coach

The Limitations of a Management Education in Developing Effective Leaders

To be a good teacher, you need to have some expertise in the subject matter you teach. This is true in most things, but especially in teaching leadership, a complex and multi-faceted skill that can be difficult to teach, even for experienced professionals. While that may seem logical, unfortunately, many management-trained individuals may believe they are qualified to teach leadership when they are not. Clients and students must be acutely aware of this if they want to maximize their leadership development investments.

One reason why some management-trained individuals may feel qualified to teach leadership is due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a dangerous psychological phenomenon in which people who are unskilled in a particular area tend to overestimate their abilities. The Dunning-Kruger effect can lead to a false sense of confidence, making it difficult for individuals to recognize their limitations. As a result, these individuals may be more likely to believe they are qualified to teach leadership, even if they lack the necessary experience or expertise. As anyone on LinkedIn can attest, this is a widespread problem because many on that platform seem to think they are a leadership expert despite having no true leadership experience or education.

Unfortunately, in a leadership development setting, the client experiences adverse outcomes when they fall victim to novice programs. The biggest problem is that attempting to teach leadership without a proper understanding of the subject matter can lead to contorted outcomes for the student. Students may receive conflicting information or advice that can cause confusion and hinder their growth as leaders. This can also result in ineffective leadership, as the student may rely on flawed or incomplete information when making decisions. Ultimately, the result is a failure for the leader and the team or organization.

A seemingly obvious issue with management-trained individuals attempting to teach leadership is that management is not the same as leadership. As Dr. John Kotter famously said, “Management is (Still) Not Leadership.” While management and leadership share some similarities, they are ultimately two different skill sets. While some management skills may be useful in a leadership role, they are insufficient to develop effective leadership skills.

Ultimately, someone cannot teach what they do not know. Effective leadership requires a deep understanding of human behavior, communication, motivation, and emotional intelligence, among many other skills. These skills are not emphasized in traditional management education. To teach leadership effectively, individuals must deeply understand the subject matter.

It would be unwise for leadership development clients to rely on management-trained coaches or coaches who are not well-versed in leadership. When it comes to leadership development, clients need to be aware of the qualifications and experience of the individuals they are considering working with. Unfortunately, not all coaches or leadership trainers are created equal; the same is true for development programs. Indeed, it can be challenging to separate legitimate professionals from those simply capitalizing on the high demand for leadership development services.

Protecting Yourself and Your Organization

One way clients can protect themselves is by doing their research. This includes checking the credentials of the trainers. Does the degree say “leadership” or something else? If it says something else, you might want to keep looking. Also, read the reviews and testimonials from past clients. It’s also a good idea to ask for references and speak directly with individuals who have worked with the coach or trainer. Any legitimate leaderologist should have no problem sharing such information, and most students would be honored to share their experiences.

Clients should also be wary of coaches who promise quick or easy solutions to complex leadership challenges. Effective leadership development takes time, effort, and a willingness to engage in critical reflection and growth. Coaches who make unrealistic promises or offer a “one-size-fits-all” approach to leadership development, especially in a group setting, are unlikely to deliver the results clients want. An easy way to think about this is to remember that if it is not about you, it is probably the money.

Another important consideration for clients is to avoid coaches who lack a deep understanding of leadership and rely on management-focused techniques. As previously mentioned, management and leadership are two distinct skill sets, and a coach solely focused on management techniques may not be equipped to teach the more complex and nuanced skills necessary for effective leadership.

Finally, clients should be wary of coaches who are unwilling to adapt their approach to the specific needs and challenges of the client. Effective leadership development requires a customized approach that considers the unique strengths, weaknesses, and goals of the individual being coached. Coaches who are unwilling to tailor their approach to the client’s specific needs are unlikely to be effective in helping that individual achieve their leadership goals. One size does not fit all.

Teaching leadership is not easy; it cannot be done effectively by relying on management education, and it is definitely much more than motivational quotes and leadership characteristics. Management-trained individuals who wish to teach leadership must recognize their limitations and seek additional training and education to develop the necessary expertise. Only then can they hope to effectively teach others the skills they need to become effective leaders.