“I’ve tried to coach Anne to collaborate better with her peers but she just doesn’t seem to get it”. This came with an exasperated sigh from Mary, one of my executive coaching clients who is trying to get a direct report to improve her peer relationships. “I can’t spend so much of my time cleaning up the mess. Is it time to just find someone else for the role?”
In my executive coaching work, I often help my clients assess their talent. I help them become better coaches for their people. I also do a quick assessment prior to an executive coaching engagement to see whether a leader is coachable. Here are seven sure signs that someone on your team may not be.
The Seven Signs
Ask yourself these questions to determine whether someone is coachable.
They are defensive in feedback situations. Do they tune out when I give them feedback? Do they become overly emotional so they don’t “hear” the feedback? Other than what they say, does their body language show that they are open to feedback? Are they curious about themselves?
They find blame elsewhere. Are they quick to find excuses? Do they blame an external situation or another person? Are they willing to take personal accountability for the impact they have?
They are not interested in their own growth. Does this person want to grow in their skill sets? Do they respond with enthusiasm when presented with new challenges and learning opportunities?
They are unwilling to be vulnerable. To truly shift behaviors and rebuild relationships requires a level of humility and vulnerability. Is this person secure enough to admit when they are wrong? Do they ask for help? Are they willing to experience discomfort or have difficult conversations to rebuild relationships?
They are not open to new ways of looking at a situation. As human beings, our behaviors are driven by our beliefs (e.g. “my peer Tom is not trustworthy”). Often these beliefs are unconscious. The coaching process helps people to “see” the assumptions and belief patterns that cause them to derail. Is this person willing to notice how their own beliefs sabotage them? Are they willing to try on a different assumption or belief? (e.g. “I can take the first step in creating trust with Tom”). Or do they have a strong commitment to being right?
They are unwilling to experiment quickly with new behaviors. In any change effort, the Nike motto of “Just Do It” is very helpful. Learning happens when we actually try something new rather than just talking about it. Do you see this person trying a different behavior in response to your feedback?
They are unable to stay with new behaviors. Most coaching has an impact on behaviors in the short-term. However, over the long haul and especially under stress, our old derailing behaviors often return. Does this person have a commitment to their continued growth? Do they have a strong motivation that drives them to stick with these behaviors? Do they have a set of strong practices that keep them focused on being the leader they aspire to be?
My recommendation to Mary was to go through this checklist of questions and discover what her direct report was doing well, and where the coaching was not working. I asked that she experiment with being transparent and enroll Anne in the coaching process. I worked with her to shift her attitude toward coaching, seeing it as a process with two partners working toward a shared outcome, versus a frustrated boss trying to “fix” an employee. You see, I believe that each of the above warning signs are just that…warning signs, that we can do something about as coaches for our people. With strong trust, authenticity, and coaching skills, each of the above warning signs can be overcome.
If internal coaching is not working, consider getting an external coach to assess the situation. If things have not improved, take a step back and evaluate whether this person is right for the role. How will you apply this check-list to better assess your people and take action? How will you use it to do an honest self-assessment to become more coachable yourself?
A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes Leadership blog.