Someone being promoted before they’re ready can be one of two scenarios. The first is a known risk. The leader is promoted with the full knowledge that they may not be capable of fulfilling the new role but the risk is seen as minimal or manageable without external help. The second is a surprise in that everyone thinks that the individual is more than capable but it turns out that they are failing to meet expectations. The business and the individual’s career are both now at risk.

This is a scenario chapter lifted from my ebook – The Coaching Question, a Guide To Commissioning Coaching.

Business Case
As this is a reactive situation this is what might be categorised as a ‘stress purchase’. The coaching may be classed as ‘remedial’ in that we are often dealing with a problem issue, e.g. Low emotional self-control in the new context, or a capacity that is necessary for the role but is currently undeveloped.

The challenges here are usually of a very practical nature such as the fees for external coaching having not been budgeted for and/or the individual responsible for sourcing a coach does not have the required expertise in their network. Since these are often seen as urgent problems budget is more easily justified. Another factor can be the acceptance of coaching by a stressed leader who may be feeling defensive. This is a situation where it is critical that it’s clear that the relationship can be 100% confidential and that the coach is there to assist them as the client, not serve as a proxy for the organisation.

Case studies

Scenario 1: A divisional manager in a construction firm undergoing a large scale transformation. This engagement was typified by the client’s anxiety driving unhelpful behaviours. It was a stressed business, in difficult market conditions that had chosen to undergo quite a radical structural change. This divisional manager had previously been a regional sales director so this was a significant shift even without the challenging conditions. The organisation had sent them on an executive education program and though this was helpful, under stress the coachee reverted to old and overly emotional, aggressive behaviours. This was a surprise for senior management. It was important here that the coachee had someone they could trust and depend on for support. In this trusted space they were able to gain access to perspectives that led them to significant behaviour change. Not only was their position secured, they became a significant contributor to shaping the organisation’s strategy.

Scenario 2: The organisation had suspected this manager would struggle upon promotion but only put coaching in place once problems became obvious. This was a typical example where the subject matter expertise meant they were promoted into this role before they had developed sufficient maturity as a leader. This was a situation where ‘coaching with content’ was necessary. The coachee had several gaps in their development as a manager and the coaching was a mix of coaching and mentoring, the coach slipping in and out of mentor mode as applicable. The assignment required a mix of horizontal development to expand management skills and vertical development to lift the coachee to the higher-level perspectives required of the role. The client ended up in a stable and secure situation where he could shine and the organisation’s investment and faith in him was rewarded.

Coaching offerings
We would expect offerings in this area to include briefing conversations with both HR and the Line Manager, and a three-way meeting with the coachee and line manager to agree outline goals and measures of success. The industry standard six sessions may need extension to eight depending on the depth of the challenge. The coach should be happy to coach with content as these scenarios often include some skills/knowledge deficit.

You can request the whole of The Coaching Question here.


Executive Coach Gregor Findlay helps leaders and leadership teams be the best they can be so they, in turn, make the biggest positive difference for themselves, their people and society.