How to spot uncoachable executives in your organization?

While executive coaches are gaining more acceptance in organizations to enable transformation, the fact remains that some executives could be ‘uncoachable.’ As engagements with leading coaches come at substantial sums of money, it becomes imperative for talent managers to identify the uncoachable agents and figure out a way to make them coachable before they are assigned for coaching.

This phenomenon is discussed in detail in an insightful article from the Harvard Business Review. There are tell-tale signs which uncoachable leaders display, according to the article. Identifying these leaders and how to employ the methods to make them coachable form the core of the HBR piece. The gist of those ideas are looked at here. we

You need to know the signs that tell which executives are uncoachable, so you come equip them for coaching

Signs of an uncoachable executive

Too busy to attend coaching

It is normal for leaders to stay busy. Between carrying out their technical tasks and managing a team, leaders in organizations may find themselves following a busy schedule. But when the leader keeps postponing attending a coaching session citing lack of time, it could be a sign that s/he is uncoachable.

The leader who is too busy in this regard is usually a likeable personality. Not only that, they would be rather good in the technical aspects of their job. But when it comes to managing a team, they may be at a loss. And it is in this regard that coaching could help them. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be receptive to the idea.

The HBR article gives an example of a brilliant engineer who became a group president at an American manufacturing firm even before he was thirty. Adept though he was at coming up with solutions to technical issues, not so was he with managing the 20 employees who reported to him. But after coaching for three months, his higher-ups saw little progress. He resolutely kept rescheduling his coaching sessions, citing time constraints as the reason.

Such leaders would do well to take the time out from their schedule to develop new skills and mindsets. As for senior personnel who come above such leaders, they could ask them which aspects of their responsibilities they could delegate or even temporarily give up so they could attend the coaching sessions.

Prioritizing their evolutionary goals would be easier if they follow a strong personal vision. For this, they need to realize their vision in the first place. The Temenos Vision Lab or TVL is a unique technique developed by Temenos + Agility which helps leaders realize their True Personal Vision. Incorporating psychological insights and 25 years of business consultancy experience, TVL has already helped hundreds of leaders across the globe find their vision, leading to more efficient team management.

Always coming up with excuses for failures

It’s said that a good leader comes up with solutions while a poor leader comes up with excuses. That is very much the case with uncoachable change agents. Whenever something goes wrong, they have a multitude of excuses to present to you- from dearth of resources to poor teamwork and even interference from the boss. Whatever reasons they would give will be external. Never would the reason be a mistake they themselves made.

This could indicate a serious lack of self-awareness. For coaching to be effective, they should be aware of how their actions affect others in the organization.

The HBR article cites the example of a CEO of a huge media firm. Though shrewd in getting the company big turnarounds, he was thoroughly out of touch with this executive team. Even when he attended coaching sessions-prompted by board directors-he didn’t share much information on himself. And when the coaches observed him in action in a boardroom, they saw how much he steered the conversation with his team, leaving no space for others to chip in. In other words, he was a closed system.

Such leaders are generally averse to criticism , especially if it doesn’t chime with how they see themselves. In this context, conducting an objective 360-degree review may help them see how they fare amongst their team.

TVL offers a solution in this regard. Encouraging the entire team to share their aspirations, personal milestones from their past and stories of overcoming obstacles with each other, it helps the team come to a better understanding of themselves as a group, and smoothen out communication. This is made possible through the unique tool of Influence Maps. In fact, aside from enabling individuals realize their personal vision, TVL also helps a team discover a Compelling Shared Vision.

If the executive is not open to coaching, better coaches are not enough to enable transformation

Employing frequent delay tactics

“I need to find the right coach.” “I should do more research before I get into it.” If these are lines a change agent throws at you every time you mention coaching, you have a problem in hand. And if the person acts confused and asks you the reason why coaching was suggested in the first place, even after you have explained the same to him/her, the problem could be rather severe: It could be a sign that the person is unwilling to accept their own shortcomings.

A physician leader’s example is given by the HBR article in this regard. He apparently got emotional whenever his staff challenged him about something. But when his boss informed he would need a coach so he could better control his emotions, he felt hurt at the suggestion. In other words, he got emotional. The root cause of this emotionality is suggested in the article as hidden fears about the coaching.

In this context, the article suggests that coaching be reframed as an investment the company is making to evolve rather than as a solution to fix personnel issues.

Reluctance to engage with the coach

Suggesting methods to improve  professional selves notwithstanding, the key task of a coach is to help uncover the executive’s core assumptions that address their behavior. Without uncovering those assumptions, the coach wouldn’t be able to help them confront misbeliefs which may be preventing them from evolving. It is in this context that a leader who seeks a quick-fix solution from coaching ends up being ‘uncoachable.’

For such a leader, the principal attraction to coaching is that other-successful-leaders are attending it. His/her idea is that if they could simply attend a coaching session, they would become more successful leaders. But as mentioned before, for a coach to be able to help them, a deeper interaction is required- simply being present would not help. More often than not, these change agents are simply unwilling to engage on that level; so nothing fruitful comes of the coaching.

For this, the story of a CEO whose firm was bought by a bigger company is cited as example by the HRB article. The leader of the latter company was someone who benefited from coaching. On his recommendation, the CEO attended a coaching session. But it became clear to the coach pretty soon that the CEO came to the coaching seeking secrets to become successful like other leaders he held in esteem.

To equip such a leader for self-reflection, you could draw their attention to the times when they resolved to change but fell short in keeping that promise with themselves. That might prompt them to see they need to change their mindset to reach the next level of success.

As for discovering and eliminating the misapprehensions that may be pulling yourself back as a change agent, the Clean Slate session- which forms a key part of TVL is designed precisely to do that.

Whatever be the issues that make an executive uncoachable, coaches would do well to remember it’s always a temporary phase: there is no such thing as a perennially uncoachable executive. The first prerequisite for coaching to be successful is to enter into a trust-based relationship with the executive. To do that, you shouldn’t hurry. Take a slow approach in building that relationship, giving the executives ample time to respond to the coaching and find themselves on a path of transformation. After all, that’s the objective with which a coach approaches his or her task in the first place. So, to encapsulate the idea in a simple mantra: slow, nice and easy!

Susan Gibson- CEO of Temenos+Agility guiding change agents to lead with vision

Temenos+ Agility CEO, Susan Gibson leading a coaching session 

For change agents and leaders, not to benefit from meaningful events and gatherings is a missed opportunity! We invite you to indulge in some of the most transformational events from Temenos; designed with hard-earned understanding, organized just for you.

Temenos Vision Lab- Online ( June 29, 2018)

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