You may be the best coach in the world, but if the person you are coaching shouldn’t be coached, it’s not going to work. I’m sorry to say that try as I might to help some people change I have come to the conclusion that some people are unsalvageable. Through years of trial and error, I have shed all illusions about my astounding behavioral change methods, and concluded that some flaws just can’t be coached away by anyone.
So, how do you know when someone is uncoachable? How do you detect a lost cause? Following are four key indicators that your coachee is not coachable:
- She doesn’t think she has a problem.
- He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.
- They’re in the wrong job.
- They think everyone else is the problem.
She doesn’t think she has a problem.
This nice woman is a successful adult who has no interest in changing. Her behavior is working fine for her and she just doesn’t care to convert. If she doesn’t care to change, you are wasting your time! Here’s a little example. My mother, a lovely woman and much-admired first grade teacher, was so dedicated to her craft that she didn’t draw the line between inside and outside the classroom. She talked to all of us, including my father, in the same slow, patient manner, using the same simple vocabulary that she used with her six-year-olds every day. One day as she graciously and methodically corrected his grammar for the millionth time, he looked at her, sighed, and said, “Honey, I’m 70 years old. Let it go.” My father had absolutely no interest in changing. He didn’t perceive a problem. So no matter how much, how hard, or how diligently she coached, he wasn’t going to change.
He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.
If this guy is already going in the wrong direction, all you’re going to do with your coaching is help him get there faster.
They’re in the wrong job.
Sometimes people feel that they’re in the wrong job with the wrong company. They may believe they’re meant to be doing something else or that their skills are being misused. Here’s a good way to determine if you’re working with one of these people. Ask them, “If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If you hear ‘relieved,’ you’ve got yourself a live one. Send them packing. You can’t change the behavior of unhappy people so that they become happy: You can only fix behavior that’s making people around them unhappy.
They think everyone else is the problem.
A long time ago I had a client who, after a few high-profile employee departures, was concerned about employee morale. He had a fun, successful company and people liked the work, but feedback said that the boss played favorites in the way he compensated people. When I reported this feedback to my client, he completely surprised me. He said he agreed with the charge and thought he was right to do so. First off, I’m not a compensation strategist and so I wasn’t equipped to deal with this problem, but then he surprised me again. He hadn’t called me to help him change; he wanted me to fix his employees. It’s times like these that I find the nearest exit. 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.
My suggestion in cases like these? Save time, skip the heroic measures, and move on. These are arguments you can’t ever win.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Fall Issue 2007, Volume 3, Issue 3).
Marshall Goldsmith, MBA, PhD
Marshall Goldsmith, MBA, PhD, founder of Marshall Goldsmith Partners LLC, is a world authority on helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting behavioral change. His executive coaching expertise has been highlighted in Forbes, Fast Company and Business Week. The most recent of his 22 books is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Hyperion, 2007).