9 Ways to Tell if Someone is Uncoachable

Written By: Alexandra Levit
April 22, 2015
3 min read

For some, coaching efforts are likely to fall flat. Root these employees out before you spend budget needlessly.

Executive coaching is professional intervention with a focus on developing the skills needed to drive change, manage complexity, build top performing teams, and maintain a strong personal foundation to thrive under challenging conditions. It can be worthwhile, but also very expensive and time-consuming.

The hard truth is, there are times when you should make the investment in an employee, and times when you should save your money. My friend Marshall Goldsmith wrote an article detailing some of these circumstances, and I’ve added a few of my own.

They don’t think they have a problem

Some successful adults, said Marshall, have no interest in changing because their behavior is working just fine. You could employ the best coach in the whole world, but if your employee doesn’t care to change, you’re wasting your time, the employee’s, and the coach’s.

They are pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization

Some employees have strong beliefs about the way the organization should operate, and those beliefs may be at odds with yours. If this guy is already going in the wrong direction, said Marshall, all your coaching will do is help him get there faster.

They're in the wrong job

An employee might feel that she’s in the wrong job with the wrong company, that she’s supposed to be doing something else or that her skills aren’t being taken advantage of properly. To tell if you’re dealing with one of these people, Marshall recommended asking her: “If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If you hear “relieved,” send her packing. Coaching will not make an unhappy person happy.

They think everyone else is the problem

As Marshall pointed out, there are some people who simply lack accountability. They blame everyone else for mistakes and misfortune and think their own behavior is perfectly reasonable. Employees who believe others are the problem are impossible to coach because they won’t take responsibility for their own role in things.

They're inherently lazy

Much as you strive to employ people with great work ethics, sometimes an unmotivated hire slips through the cracks. An employee who is always looking for the easy way out will not make the personal effort that coaching requires in order to succeed.

They're extremely sensitive

This employee gets defensive and upset when confronted with the smallest piece of constructive criticism. He’s likely to find coaching a very difficult pill to swallow unless you recognize that your process must focus on his sensitivity first and all other issues second.

They don’t take direction well

There are a variety of reasons your employee might be tough to manage in this respect. Maybe she doesn’t understand what you’re telling her even if you repeat it or try to phrase it a different way. Maybe she thinks she knows best. Either way, coaching may well require more of her than she’s willing or able to give.

They have no interest in upward mobility

Executive coaching is mainly for up-and-coming leaders who need and want to develop new skills, so if you have an employee who wants to stay in one job, doing the exact same thing forever, then coaching will not be that useful. While you don’t necessarily have to fire this person, you don’t have to throw resources at him either.

They have a poor relationship with coaching

A single failed coaching engagement is one thing, because not all executive coaches are created equal. But if your employee has been offered coaching numerous times and it’s always a disaster, consider what will be different this time around. Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.