We were asked to coach a leader by a CEO who said to us, “If this executive does not improve her leadership skills and her ability to build strong relationships with a diverse group of people, she is going to undermine her ability to ever be promoted in this organization.” The CEO went on to add, “Worse, if there are many more missteps, I am going to be forced to let her go.” The CEO had coached, counseled, and tried everything he could to help this leader without success. Finally, he called us for executive coaching.
When I first spoke to the executive, I just assumed she would be excited about the opportunity to work with a coach and amplify her opportunities to rise to an even greater level of success in the organization. Was I surprised when this leader told me, “The only reason I am working with you is because the CEO told me I have to.” After 25 years of being an executive coach, I know this much; unless I can change this leader’s perspective to see the benefits of a coach, she is doomed for failure. And, there is a good chance that if she does not change her behaviors, with or without a coach, if the CEO is serious, she is going to lose her job.
In our experience, the following are some of the common reasons why managers feel they don’t need to be coached:
Arrogance: They feel they are smarter and better than others in the organization, especially their boss.
Lack of care: They do not care what others think about their leadership style.
Lack of confidence: To admit they need a coach is admitting they are not perfect.
Lack of trust: They do not trust their manager’s intentions in recommending a coach. Instead of being grateful for the help, they see it as the first step toward being fired.
Here are 6 tips that will help raise the chances for success in working with a manager who does not want to be coached.
- Understand the resistance: In this specific example, we assumed the executive felt she was better than other leaders in the organization and did not need the help of a coach. Once we learned she was resistant because she felt if others in the organization knew she was being coached they would think she was not capable of doing her job, we were able to design a more successful approach.
- Demonstrate trust: Acknowledging the leader’s strengths and encouraging them to build on their strengths helps to build trust. Keeping confidential information confidential also builds trust.
- Set clear goals: It is important for the CEO and the executive being coached to be very clear on what the goals are for the coaching project. It is not uncommon for a leader to tell us, “I am not real clear what my manager’s goals are in having me work with you.”
- Be direct, timely and honest with feedback: Many CEO’s hire an executive coach to give the manager tough feedback they are hesitant to give, usually for the sake of harmony and avoiding conflict. If the executive being coached does not understand that there are positive benefits for improving behavior and negative consequences for not changing, it is almost impossible to get them to change.
- Recognize success: In the coaching process, there are usually two steps forward and an occasional step backwards. Stay focused on positive improvements and recognize success.
- Let go: If the leader continues to resist coaching and is unwilling to implement discussed actions or take ownership for their successes and challenges, you need to let them go and invest your energy in people who have a desire to grow and see the benefits of a coach. It will free up your time to invest in strategic opportunities, rather than trying to coach someone who has no desire to listen to your feedback.
Ultimately, the CEO in our story has his credibility at stake. The CEO’s other direct reports are all watching to see what will happen if this executive continues to not accept and act on feedback and coaching. If the executive chooses the “I am not changing” option, the CEO will be forced to make a tough staffing decision and replace the executive. In this case, it is more important that the CEO is respected by his team than liked by one executive who refuses to change.
If you have an executive who refuses to change and needs some coaching, we can help.