Motivating direct reports to seek coaching

Line managers sometimes naively expect direct reports to jump at the chance to be coached, but there are many reasons why this isn’t going to happen. Among the most common:

  • They don’t realise that they need coaching. They may be unaware of performance or behavioural issues they would benefit from addressing
  • They don’t want to admit they have a problem
  • They don’t trust the line manager’s impartiality
  • They are too busy fixing problems to think about fixing themselves
  • They have a fear of failure, so are avoidant of challenges
  • They don’t like to ask for help, because they think it makes them appear weak
  • They have experienced poor coaching in the past and this colours their expectations
  • They don’t see the benefits of changing their behaviours
  • They think that the line manager coach is contributing to the problem (or even that the coach is the problem)

A good starting point is to take away the formality of coaching, replacing it with relatively informal conversations about the work and how it might be improved. It’s relatively easy to adopt a coaching style in these conversations, as long as the focus of enquiry is on what you both can do and not on “what’s wrong” with the direct report.

From these conversations, you can begin to isolate areas, which the direct report would like to work on. Make the offer: “Let’s set aside half an hour, whenever you are ready, to do some creative thinking together on that issue.” This places the emphasis (and some obligation) on them to seek a suitable time to resume the conversation. When they do come to you, make sure you really listen to them and that you avoid any hint of judgement or blame.

Having built some trust, you can encourage them to think about other times, when it would be helpful for them to seek help from you. Encourage them to make a list of such possible occasions – for example, when they don’t get the reaction they expect from a colleague or customer, or when they are not confidant they are making the right decision. Avoid making them feel pressured; simply make it clear that you are available.

If they still avoid coming to you, make a point of enquiring about their progress. If they pretend everything is fine, ask what it would look like if things were more than fine!

To underpin these actions, you can also contract with your whole team that you will make time for developmental conversations with them, whenever they need them. In this way, you can slowly remove many of the fear barriers that prevent people seeking coaching.

© David Clutterbuck. All rights reserved

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