I’ve noticed there’s a cycle that people tend to move through when they engage with most of the leaders, webinars, workshops and programs that are available in the leadership realm.

This cycle exists because most of these approaches to developing leadership are performative (meaning they are focused exclusively on what you need to do), and don’t work with the underlying ontology of someone’s leadership. As a result, they rarely create anything other than short-term change.

Like trying to shift an iceberg by pushing at the 10% we can see above the water, it seems promising at first, but eventually things more or less remain the same.

This is the cycle I see people tend to move through as they engage with these approaches.

1. Hope, Excitement and Inspiration

Initially, any new program or leader is novel and novelty will usually feel good. There are new ideas being talked about, the promise of things being different, and the claims that this — THIS — is genuinely different.

The leader may be charismatic and project confidence or magnetism. They seem assured that this will make a difference, and make claims about other situations where they have done the same. So far so good.

You dive in relish and zeal.

2. Confusion and self-blame

As time goes on, the initial zeal starts to wear off. You’re taking the actions that are dictated, but the world around you doesn’t seem to be responding as promised.

As tends to be the case with most approaches to leadership, the ideas are fine — simple even — in theory, but in practice they don’t seem to make the traction you are hoping for.

You may even reach out for more support from the person leading the work, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference either. You’re doing everything they’re suggesting.

What’s going on?

As you navigate the dissonance between the promise of the work, and the results it’s actually (not) delivering, your confusion may start to shift to self-blame.

The leader is insisting this works, and they seem to have things figured out. Perhaps the problem is yourself. Maybe you’re not doing things the right way. After all, every time you ask for support, the leader seems impeccably confident in what they’re providing you. There’s no doubt in their mind, so there’s no one to question but yourself.

3. Frustration and Anger

As time continues, the glamour of the leader or the work starts to wear off. You hear them making the same claims they always have, but you now have evidence that things aren’t working.

They may put this back on you and tell you “You’re just not implementing it correctly”, and that renews your commitment to dig in for a while, but that wears thin too.

As time goes on, you start to feel duped.

4. Disillusionment and Resignation

The final stage is where you fully fall out of faith with this approach or leader. If this is your first time through this process, you chalk it up to a bad leader or modality.

As time goes on, and you try to engage with other approaches or leaders that promise similar results, your disillusionment starts to shift to full-blown resignation. Resignation that real shifts aren’t actually possible.

Breakthroughs sound nice in theory but, “You just need to learn to accept that…”

As someone that stands for the real experience of possibility and breakthroughs, this cycle is heartbreaking. What I find happens is that people are met with the promise of things being different, and then this promise is slowly sapped out of them.

This is the impact of a poorly trained coaching and leadership industry. This is the impact of coaches not doing their work.

We are left with lip-service paid to high concepts like breakthroughs, transformation and possibility, with the inevitable result being that people end up with less possibility available in their lives, rather than more.

I’d like to end on a positive note, and there are many ways to do that, but I don’t think that would do this piece justice. In order to shift the way things are, we first have to accept them as they are.

So, for now, this is where we leave off.