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On Being Coachable

by David Brock on July 23rd, 2015

In my post, Does Everyone Need CoachingAnthony Iannarino made the comment, “If someone thinks they don’t need coaching, they probably need it the most!”

Anthony’s probably right, but it brings up what I think is probably one of the most critical issues we face in coaching:  Is The Person Coachable?

I’m pretty hard nosed about this topic.  There are people who simply aren’t coachable.  They won’t listen, they aren’t open to different ideas, they don’t appreciate or think about feedback, they won’t engage in discussions about what they are doing and how they might improve.

The problem with the uncoachable person is they have chosen not to learn, grow, improve.  The uncoachable person tends to isolate himself from any kind of feedback, guided by their own opinions and views of the world.

Some managers make a mistake, thinking low performers who aren’t responding or improving are uncoachable.  That may not be the case, there may be other issues (skills, aptitude, how they are being coached, etc.) that impact their performance.

I’ve seen top performers who aren’t coachable.

Again, managers make mistakes with these people, thinking they don’t need coaching, and just let them alone.  But watch the uncoachable top performer.  They won’t sustain that top performance very long.

Repeating myself, the uncoachable have made a decision to stop learning, growing, improving.  As a result, they get left behind–even the top performer.  As customers change, as our company/organizations change, as competition changes, we need to constantly be seeking to learn, change, improve, adapt.  Coaching is a critical part of that process.

Ultimately, with the uncoachable, we are faced with a decision:   It’s not “if,” but “when” we need to move them out of the business.  Since the uncoachable are ultimately left behind, they become low performers.  Since they refuse to be coached, there is no way their performance will improve.  They can become a drain on management time and on the organization’s effectiveness.

The high performing uncoachable person, can be even more difficult.  If he is an opinion leader in the organization, it makes it more difficult for the organization, as a whole, to grow, change, and improve.  Others look at them, thinking, “They’re successful, they aren’t changing, why should I?”  By the time their performance slips and people recognize it, there is an overall organizational performance issue.

Being uncoachable isn’t limited to individual contributors, managers and leaders at all levels can be uncoachable.  This is devastating to the organization–both it’s performance and morale.

So the decision with the uncoachable is not if, but when you exit them from the organization.

But we have to be cautious.  We have to make sure the person is uncoachable–not just difficult to coach, or struggling with performance.

As managers, we may have difficulties with certain types of people, and mistakenly think they are uncoachable, but they may respond very well to coaching from another person.  If we haven’t established a trusted relationship with the person we are coaching, and if we don’t trust them, we may mistakenly think they are uncoachable.

How then, do we recognize the uncoachable?

  • They’re bad listeners–with everyone.  They aren’t active, engaged listeners with customers, they don’t listen to peers in the organization, they don’t listen and engage with managers.
  • They aren’t open to feedback.  They tend to get defensive (all of us get somewhat defensive), they resist.  They may start making excuses or simply ignore the feedback, continuing to do the same things they’ve already done.
  • They present an image of “knowing it all.”  They may be very smart, but they resist learning, they resist trying new things.
  • They may tend to isolate themselves in the organization.  As the organization changes and they don’t, they may separate themselves.  “Lone wolf” sales people may be the uncoachable, at least in today’s world.
  • They are probably relatively self-centered.  Since they listen only to their own counsel, they tend not to be open to the views and ideas of others.  They tend not to be collaborative.  They may, in fact, tend to be very directive.  They know the answers and expect others to follow their direction.
  • They are very resistant to change and tend to change grudgingly, often slipping back into old habits.
  • They may “mask” their uncoachability with passive aggressiveness.  They may seem to agree with things, but then doing what they wanted to do in the first place.

Everyone may display some of these characteristics, some of the time.  For the uncoachable, this their behavior all of the time.

The uncoachable, particularly the high performing uncoachable, is one of the biggest challenges to personal and organizational effectiveness.  As leaders, we can’t ignore them, we have to take action.

One final note, as you look at the uncoachable, turn the mirror on yourself.  Make sure you are coachable–or you may be the problem.  (But of course, if you really were, you would probably not be reading this.)

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