How to Avoid the Two Most Critical Participant Pitfalls in Leadership Development


We learned the hard way (through some costly mistakes) about what makes participants successful in our programs. These two dimensions will help you select the right participants and assess their level of engagement.


effective leadership development

We are on a journey with you at Coachmetrix to dramatically change how leaders are developed. To add the structure, discipline and measurement that we know it takes to help leaders make sustainable change that will positively impact our businesses, community and world.


In recent posts, I’ve talked about some of the mistakes we’ve made when it comes to leadership development. We explored the distinction between executive support and executive commitment and how the lack of commitment from executives can derail incredible content and delivery. We also looked into the importance of including “supporters” in coaching and effective leadership development efforts and how they’re often the missing link to creating sustainable change.


We haven’t talked about program participants yet!

And that’s exactly where we are going today.



What Makes a Great Participant for Coaching and Leadership?


We’ve found in our work, that most young, talented leaders are interested in growth and development. They want to learn; they want to be better; they want to be successful. That’s not necessarily what the stereotypical view of what a millennial is about. But we think the “entitled” “lazy” and fill-in-the-blank generalities about millennials are over done, over played, and old news. Work with a young, hungry and naive leader and they want the same things that most other leaders want – to be valued, to contribute and to feel successful.


Frankly, we see more resistance in programs from “older” leaders who already know it all. From the people who, in no uncertain terms, make it known that they’ve been through leadership development in the past and the basics are just too…well… basic. The funny thing is that when we talk to their team members, their team members typically report that they aren’t walking the walk, they’re just talking the talk.


With that said, I’ve personally gotten a ton of clarity on what makes a great participant in a leadership or coaching engagement. And frankly, just like when executive commitment and supporters are absent from a program, when your participants lack these two key characteristics, their leadership development experience and any expected results from a program will be largely diminished.


It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are the two key factors to look for when selecting participants for your engagement.


Two Key Factors to Avoid Participant Pitfalls


Commitment as defined by Merriam-Webster is an agreement or pledge to do something in the future. In terms of effective leadership development, it’s a pledge to engage in the activities and components of a program and to ensure that they are of the utmost importance on the participant’s priority list. In other words, they are as important as board meetings and customer visits. As I’m writing this post, I’m responding to a client who wants to make a last minute change to a scheduled coaching session. What a momentum killer. When participants are truly committed, they are much more likely to improve. Miss a coaching session here or there, or miss one or two leadership development workshops out of five in a program and sustainable change rarely happens. Commitment is critical. We’ll dive deeper in future posts on how to build and maintain participant commitment.


Coachability is the second factor that we believe is incredibly important to creating a sustainably great program. In fact, it’s not only important. It’s required. If your participants aren’t coachable, there’s no point in including them in a program. Our pucker-factor red flag goes off when companies come to us to “fix” their employees. That’s not what coaching is about and it’s likely that both the manager and the employee aren’t coachable. How do we define coachability? Well, when we looked this one up on Merriam-Webster, nothing showed up. So, here’s our definition. Coachability is a dimension that describes whether a participant is open to feedback and willing to change. The participant has to be both open and willing in order to be coachable, and if they aren’t coachable, there’s no sense in coaching them.


How to use Commitment and Coachability


You can use these two dimensions to (1) select people to be part of your programs and (2) to assess how they are performing in a program. The beauty of these dimensions are their predictive nature. I can spot early on whether someone’s going to be successful in a leadership development or coaching program just by assessing their level of commitment and coachability.


Here’s how we employed these two dimensions in a recent 7-month strategic leadership development program with 12 high performing emerging leaders. At about a one-third of the way through the program, we asked the coaches to assess themselves based on the following 4 questions:

  • I have attended all program components (commitment).
  • I have completed all fieldwork assignments between workshops and coaching sessions (commitment).
  • I actively participated in workshops and coaching sessions (coachable).
  • I am open to feedback and willing to make change (coachable).
  • I have consistently calibrated with my manager – met between workshops, shared my Coachmetrix action plan and pulse feedback, and sought feedback. (commitment and coachable)


Of course we upload these questions into Coachmetrix as a Resource so that we can re-purpose them across all of our projects with a single click of the mouse.


As participants assess where they are, they can make adjustments to improve both their commitment and coachability in a program.


Why Does All This Matter?


Listen, we’ve made all sorts of mistakes when it comes to running great programs. They are mostly around the logistics of how programs are run. We have great content, great coaches and great clients. But the selection of participants is critically important to the success of a program. Select people who are committed and coachable and you can create healthy and aligned teams and organizations. And, most importantly, make a bigger difference in our world. That’s what this work is all about. Isn’t it?


I’d love to hear your perspective. What dimensions are you using to select and assess the level of participant engagement in your programs. Come on, let’s make this world a better place together. Let’s help create the leadership development tools and solutions that change this world one participant at a time.

Recent Posts
Contact Us

Get our white paper on How to Measure Results in Executive Coaching and Leadership Development by filling out the form

Click here to check out our demo