When Coaching Doesn’t Work

Whether you are a manager who needs to coach your team, or a professional coach working with a client, it is critical to understand the conditions which must exist for performance coaching to be effective.

Oftentimes we misdiagnose a performance gap as requiring “coaching.” Coaching isn’t always the right solution. When people need to be told what to do we can advise them, when people need to know how to do something they can be trained, but when people need someone to help them to do it themselves this is when coaching is most effective.

In pure coaching engagements the coach never tells the client (or team member) what they should do but rather allows them to make the decisions and select their own path. The coach merely guides the subject by asking the right questions and attempting to uncover the reasons for the attitudes, habits and behaviors and gently assists them in discovering the best solution through facilitating a dialog.
When coaching is ineffective it is often resisted and this might block the individual’s growth or performance improvement. Here are some of the key reason’s which cause others to resist coaching:

Consumes Too Much Time
Surely coaching requires a commitment of time (possibly even dollars) from the subject. Some coaching happens monthly or weekly or even daily. There is no prescribed frequency or duration of time earmarked for coaching sessions. That said the time/dollars invested by the subject must at least be equal to the benefit received. In fact the subject is expecting to gain significantly more value from the coaching arrangement as compared to the time or dollars invested. For this reason the coach and subject must together develop a plan of “desired outcomes.” The success of the coaching engagement should be measured based on the degree to which these outcomes are realized. Since the benefits of behavioral change are massive the return on the coaching should represent a high multiple of the time/dollars invested.

Respect or Trust is Absent
In order to influence others we must be respected by them. If the coaching being provided is not “perceived to be” in the best interest of the subject; the coaching arrangement will fail. This is why forcing someone to engage in coaching is hardly ever productive. The relationship between the coach and the subject is an intimate one. Rather sensitive issues will be addressed and the subject must be able to trust the coach in order to communicate in a transparent manner. On the other hand when trust and mutual respect are achieved the result of the coaching arrangement can be rather significant.

It’s Intimidating
If coaching is not carefully facilitated the result might be the subject feeling unmotivated or ill confident. Too much pressure for change being exerted on the subject can have a contrary effect causing them to believe the possibility of behavioral change is not achievable or even warranted. Their confidence in their abilities might wan. Some coaches still believe that pushing people very hard is the best way to inspire peak performance. This can’t be argued looking at the statistics but there is a more pure way to incite change in behaviors. Genuinely helping to “build confidence” in the coaching sessions is a powerful way to engage the subject to tap into their self-potential. When the subject believes that the coach has pure motives they tend to apply themselves and embrace change more readily.

Some People Are Just Not Coachable
Coaching is not for everyone. There are those who reach their level of competency (or incompetency) and simple plateau-out. They feel leaning of a coach is akin to a character weakness. There are a number of signs which are indicators that a person is not coachable. First; they may not believe they have a problem but in fact, everyone else is the problem. Second; they may be stuck on behaviors which they believe to be the most effective yet blind to evidence of the contrary. Third; they just may be in the wrong job or pursuing the wrong strategy which they are too personally aligned with to back-off. It’s hard to help people who don’t think they have a problem. It’s impossible to fix people who think someone else is the problem. This is a clear sign that coaching may not be the right solution.

Whether you are a coach, someone being coached or someone looking for a coach it is critical to recognize the impediments to coaching. In doing so we might save someone and ourselves the heartache of attempting to bring about unwanted change.

On the other hand most good leaders are self-reflective and focused on continuous improvement. They know that success is not a destination but a journey and are always seeking ways to improve their competencies and behaviors. Next time you are tasked with coaching someone or even being coached think about these four impediments and answer the question, are these behaviors present?

If so, head for the door!