I'm a manager who is eager to coach members of my staff, but some of them seem to resist my approaches. Am I doing something wrong or are some employees just uncoachable?
The honest answer is one that you may not want to hear: It's not that they don't want coaching; they just don't want coaching from you.
It's not the coaching your employees are resisting. They are simply very picky about welcoming what can be a profoundly personal conversation.
The idea that some people are uncoachable emanates from the myth that coaching is something we do to others. It's not. It's a powerful, performance and career-changing process that we do with others.
We may call ourselves coaches. We may offer ourselves as coaches. We may encourage others to avail themselves of our coaching.
But we can't unilaterally impose ourselves on others as coaches. No matter how senior we are, no matter how interpersonally skilled we are, no matter how experienced we are, we still have to earn the right to coach.
Here are factors that can help you earn the right to coach:
Don't go by a book
A plethora of coaching books and training programs naively assert that leaders simply need to engage in a series of interpersonal tricks designed to entice others into coaching conversations. Their lists include: state your intentions, express confidence in the person, listen actively, provide balanced feedback and co-create an action plan
These are good leadership practices, but they are not enough to get you invited into a coaching relationship.
Consider what worked for you
Thinking about your own experiences, you are likely to find that before you welcomed anyone as a coach you sought reassurance on three questions:
Do you really care about me? (which really means, are you committed to my success?)
Can I trust you? (Will you tell me the truth?)
Do you have something of value for me? (Will you share your best experience to help me become my best?)
Understand the fears
Great coaching often involves exposing our most treasured aspirations, exploring the scary territory of discussing unfulfilled expectations, owning up to the ways we are selling ourselves short, making bold new promises to ourselves and charting risky new courses of action.
These are not things we will do with just anyone. These are things we will only do with someone who we believe truly cares about us, is trustworthy and has something important to offer.
Ask yourself now, are you giving positive answers to the three questions to your "uncoachable" staff?
Speak with each of them one-on-one, let them know you would be honoured to serve as their coach, and ask them what you need to do to earn the right to do so. This will likely be one of the most difficult and humbling things you will ever do as a leader … but it will likely be the most valuable.
Figuring out what you can do to engage with those you previously considered uncoachable is a challenge, but it can be done.
Gregg Thompson is a coach and speaker and president of Bluepoint Leadership Development in Toronto.