top of page

Four Surefire Signs You Need A Leadership Development Coach

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This sage observation comes courtesy of William Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 2. Wise executives know that being in charge means making decisions that have significant consequences for others – and that it’s a rough road when taken alone. It is up to leaders to discern for themselves that it’s time to seek out a coach on this ever-changing path.

Here are four signs that an executive is ready for a coach who can help them maximize their potential while providing them with the tools to make better, more-informed decisions – both big and small – in their workplace.

1. You have a dysfunctional team.

Conflict will happen; it can be addressed productively or not. A dysfunctional team is often plagued by difficulty navigating through conflict. Signs of counterproductive conflict are passive-aggressive reactions; pushing away from and avoiding the conflict or the subject of the conflict; or encounters that are tainted with feelings of being personally offended or holding grudges.

All of these responses are common and are human nature. Conflict is scary to humans and until we work on ourselves as individuals, getting to know our conflict triggers and those of our teammates, we will be unable to have healthy conflict and ultimately, a high-performing team. In fact, an article in Mediate states, “Some estimate that American companies lose $359 billion a year due to the effects of conflicts because of diminished work performance, low employee morale, and loss of revenue” (Picincu, A, 2019).

When you think of conflict, it probably brings to mind arguments and disagreements. This is not always indicative of conflict. Conflict relates to how day-to-day conversations and interactions that elicit differing opinions are managed, especially the ones that are avoided because leaders sense they may result in an unpleasant clash.

Instead of facing the potential conflict, they often pull back and “stuff down” their opinion, while playing a familiar tune in their heads that their way is better or finding things that are wrong with the decision that’s been made. These deadly silences can distance the team and lead to dysfunction. As a leader, you are contributing to the dysfunction through your own conflict pattern.

2. A new level of company growth and financial targets are on the horizon.

New challenges require new behaviors and thinking. What got you here won’t necessarily get you to the next level. If you are challenging your team to achieve higher results or to do something that’s never been done in your company’s history, the need for novel approaches is amplified. How are you going to employ new thinking and bring it about in your team? When you rely on what you’ve done in the past, you will produce the same results, because your thought patterns are the same – like grooves in a vinyl record.

New thinking starts with YOU. You’ll need to get out of those vinyl-record grooves and carve new ones to refine your leadership skills and change your thought patterns. This happens when you hire a leadership development coach to challenge thinking, examine thought patterns, and work with you to expand and enlarge them. Our brains cannot fully comprehend the massive growth that’s readily available, as they constantly seek recurring patterns and find comfort in repeating them. It is NOT human nature to continually challenge and expand your thinking and performance.

The good news is that science can help. Using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (the science of the words you use and choose not to use), coaches can open neural pathways to expand your thinking — quickly. The secret lies in the method coaches use to ask questions that get the brain to open up and grab hold of new ideas and concepts. Clients both large and small who work with companies that use this technique (like mine) are constantly amazed at how well this process works. They begin to realize how limited and stale their thinking is. Truly effective coaching gives founders of such industry giants as Amazon, Netflix, Google, and SpaceX their edge.

3. There’s no plan for promotion and succession.

Only 20% of companies are actively naming and developing successors and have a plan in place that’s being followed. There’s a tremendous gap when it comes to developing individual team members who can be promoted into roles that might lead to succession. The rule of thumb is to target five successors for each leader, promote them into roles where they can get the experience needed to try their hand, and see how they perform. This is the most effective way of ensuring effective succession ‒ much better than targeting and naming a single successor, believing they have the right “stuff,” then praying they work out when they assume the new role.

In order to move up, move onto something else, or retire – and reach your goals – the company should be structured so that everyone can move into the next position. For this to happen, the entire team needs coaching, both individually to develop the leadership ability and performance of each person, and as a whole to develop cohesive cooperation. Coaching can also facilitate mining for healthy debate and thought diversity, which leads to better decision-making. These changes certainly don’t happen by themselves, and they cannot be achieved by you alone.

4. Everyone is saying “yes.”

If everyone on your team is saying “yes,” there is a problem. This indicates you are in or have created a zero-feedback environment. This often happens with CEOs or members of senior leadership teams – those who have the greatest impact on everyone in the organization. They and their work can benefit greatly from feedback, but it is rarely received. Do you get feedback about your performance from others, apart from board members? Typically, the higher you ascend, the less feedback you receive.

An experienced leadership development coach will provide feedback that is of genuine value —feedback that is based on scientific methods of uncovering and rewiring behavioral patterns that impede effective interaction and optimal performance. Where else might you get this type of feedback? Not in a peer or professional group, not from colleagues, and not from friends. Your leadership coach should also provide a safe space for you to bounce ideas around without judgement or ramification.

Seek leadership development based on science.

Do any of these four conditions exist within your company? Seeking out a leadership development coach who can help you address some or all of these conditions while allowing you to reach your maximum potential is key.

But remember: look for a coach whose approach is grounded in neuroscience (i.e., how the brain works). Unfortunately, most leadership development coaches use a simple behavior-based approach that targets only the conscious mind; the effectiveness of this approach is sporadic at best.

The reason is that negative behavior patterns are created in the subconscious and unconscious mind. To change these patterns and help leaders maximize their potential requires an approach that gets into the subconscious and unconscious mind and creates new and lasting neural pathways, not just temporary behavioral changes. Coaches who use an approach grounded in neuroscience can help executives open unconscious blocks in their mind, creating the opportunity to make lasting change by erasing old patterns and habits and replacing them with newer, more effective ones.

About the author:

Karen Brown is CEO of Exponential Results. She draws on 30 years of success as a corporate executive with over 20,000 hours of senior executive coaching experience. She is also a focused athlete, having completed, as an amateur, in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii as well as competing in ultra-marathon and triathlon events around the world.

It was during her Ironman training that Karen discovered the key to greater performance and effectiveness: identifying and addressing blind spots – the repeated thinking patterns that impede success. Her discovery led to the creation of Exponential Results’ proprietary Power Pathways™ methodology, stemming from neuroscience.

Karen is the author of Unlimiting Your Beliefs: 7 Keys to Greater Success in Your Personal and Professional Life. Contact her at



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page