His tone of voice reminded me of the frustration I had felt too often, when I was just not getting through to an executive coaching client. Coaching doesn’t work for many reasons. The coachability of a leader determines whether the coaching has impact.
The skill of the coach also has a significant impact. According to a 2017 LinkedIn report, learning how to coach others is the most important leadership priority for organizations today. As leaders and coaches for our people we need to grow our own skills to overcome the resistance to change in our coachees.
Ten Ways to Overcome Resistance
When your coaching is not getting the desired results, use the list below to diagnose what’s missing and make an impact. Coaching is not about pushing people to change their behaviors. It’s about partnering with them to help them do so.
Have you built trust? Trust is an absolute foundation of a good coaching relationship. Without trust between the coach and the leader being coached (the coachee), the coachee is not able to lower their guard, which is essential to the coaching relationship. Ask a coach ask yourself, what is the quality of the trust in the relationship. Do you believe in your coachee? We can unconsciously feel others judgments and intentions toward us and if the coachee doesn’t trust you, your impact will be limited.
Have you discovered motivators? Any sustained change requires commitment rather than just compliance. Understand what the coachee’s vision is for themselves. What does success look like to them? What’s important to them? What are their goals, dreams, and desires for their career and life? What is the link between their own goals and the behavior change you’re coaching them on? Help them get in touch with what’s really important to them. Are they equal partners in the coaching process or are you dragging them along on the behavior change you want?
Are you nurturing their confidence? Any change effort that a coachee undertakes requires confidence in themselves. You can help build both trust, motivation, and confidence by reminding the leader about their strengths and what’s already working well. Focus on catching the coachee doing something right!
Are you raising self-awareness? I don’t believe anyone comes to work deciding that they are going to be a horrible leader today. Leadership performance gaps mostly exist because people are not aware of their impact on others. You can use assessments (360-degree feedback, self-assessments) help people under their impact. What are you doing to build that self-awareness?
Have you together set clear and measurable goals? What are the two to three specific behaviors you are both aligned to shifting? How will they measure their progress? Which stakeholders do they want to engage and get input on the progress they are making?
Do you bring curiosity or judgment? When someone is not following through on their commitments, instead of judgment, skilled coaches bring curiosity. This helps the coachee lower their guard and get curious themselves (instead of judging themselves or being defensive). They get new insights about what stands in the way of sustained behavior change.
Are you practicing presence? Presence is slowing down and being fully here in this moment, listening deeply. As coaches, we can get involved in a “story” in our own heads or the “story” that the coachee is repeating to themselves. Instead, we must be an objective observer to notice what’s happening in the moment that the coachee may not be aware of and bring it to their attention. For example, when what a leader is saying is at odds with their body language and tone of voice, it’s okay to observe “I notice you’re saying you want to improve your peer relationships, but I’m not hearing a lot of conviction in your voice”. Then just be silent, and listen. Silence is a great coaching tool.
Are you being honest and courageous? Honesty builds trust in the relationship. Without honesty, the coaching is simply a pleasant conversation without much hope for change. Are you being as honest and courageous as you can be as a coach? As hard as it is to practice as a coach (after all you’re supposed to be the expert), showing vulnerability creates great trust. It allows the person being coached to feel safe in being vulnerable too. I often find myself saying “okay I’m stuck here. I feel like I’m pushing you too hard. Where do we go from here?”
Do you drive accountability? It is your job to help the person being coached improve their performance. Keep the coaching goals and measures front and center. Let them self-assess and give them feedback.
Do you help them choose? As a coach, we must believe that our coachee is empowered to make good choices for themselves. Ultimately, if a coachee is not committed to an action, create a safe space for them to say so, and discover what they are committed to. It is your job to explore with them the consequences of not making a change, but the person being coached is ultimately at choice whether they want to change or not. As a coach, this is perhaps one of the hardest truths to recognize.
As I look back to some of my coaching where the results were less than stellar, I can now see through this list where I myself didn’t bring enough clarity, courage or accountability to the coaching conversations.
Our jobs as leaders is not just to deliver the results, but in the process grow the people we lead. This perhaps is one of our greatest leadership legacies. I know that in looking back, I am deeply grateful to the people who believed in me, who saw my potential even before I could see it. As leaders and coaches, we must constantly grow our own skills in order to grow others. The practices of being a great coach make me a better leader and a better human being. This last piece is what keeps me most energized about my work.
How are you going to use this list to self-assess how you can improve your impact in a coaching relationship?
This article first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
If you are part of an organization that hires executive coaches, reach out to me for the “Tool-Kit for Executive Coaching Impact“. It helps HR leaders optimize the impact of their executive coaching program.