“Well, I’ve tried to support Anna how to cooperate better with her colleagues through coaching, but it seems to me she hasn’t figured it out – at all!” This is what Sarah, one of our executive clients, said with a deep sigh, after trying to find a way to improve relations in her company. “I can’t waste that much time on cleaning up the mess. Has the time come for me to simply find another person for Anna’s position?”

Have you come to that point as well?

In our work with executive clients, we often help them learn how to assess real talents. We help them become better coaches for their employees. In addition, we recommend to analyse the person who should be coached before the process starts, in order to see whether the person is coachable. Guided by great experience gained through a variety of situations, we’ve listed seven clear signs that someone on your team cannot be coached:

  • They get defensive during feedback.
    Do they seem to simply switch off while receiving feedback? Do they become so emotional that they can’t even hear the feedback? Aside from what they say, does their body language suggest that they might be open to feedback? Are they even curious about themselves and how others see them?
  • They place the blame elsewhere.
    Do they make excuses for their actions? Do they blame external factors or other people? Are they willing to take responsibility for their role in things?
  • They are not interested in personal growth.
    Does that person show interest in improving their personal skills? Does that person respond to new challenges with enthusiasm and consider them to be opportunities for learning?
  • They are not willing to show vulnerability.
    A change in attitude and rebuilding relationships requires a high level of humility and vulnerability. Are they willing to admit mistakes? Do they seek help? Are they willing to put themselves in uncomfortable situations or to have difficult conversations in order to rebuild relationships with others?
  • They are not open to analyzing situations from a different perspective.
    Naturally, our behavior is conditioned by our beliefs. For example, “My colleague Lucas isn’t reliable”. Our beliefs are mostly subconscious. The process of coaching helps us to recognize assumptions and patterns of belief that lead people off track. Is your employee willing to consider how personal beliefs limit them? Are they willing to try out different beliefs and assumptions (for example, “I can take the first step towards rebuilding trust with my colleague Lucas.”), or is that person only focused on being right?
  • They are not willing to try out a new type of behavior.
    Nike’s slogan can always come in handy when we strive towards change. Learning happens when we actually try something out, rather than only talk about it. Does your employee try to change their behavior in response to your feedback?
  • They are not able to sustain the new behavior.
    Coaching has a short-term effect in most cases. However, when it comes to the long-run, and especially when dealing under pressure, old dysfunctional patterns tend to come back. Does the employee in question show dedication to continuous personal growth? Do they have strong motivation that helps them persist and continue with new habits? Do they have rituals that help them to stay focused on becoming the leader they want to become?

Our recommendation to Sarah was to go through this list of signs and try to find out to what extent her feedback was effective or whether it had had no effect at all. Our coach asked her to be transparent and to involve Anna in the coaching process. It was important for Anna to change her relationship to coaching and to see it as a process in which two parties work hand in hand, as partners, towards a common goal, rather than a process by which a frustrated boss tries to discipline an employee. Each of the above indicators are red flags as to the limitations of our work as coaches with potentially uncoachable clientele.

If ‘internal’ coaching doesn’t glean any results, you should try an external coach. If things still don’t improve, take a step back and think about whether that person is really the right one for the job.