Barriers to Great Coaching

The basic requirement to great coaching is the presence of a desire by the coachee to want to seek solutions to their problems and improve and become better. The key word here is desire. If this is absent, then great coaching cannot happen. However, the good news is that, despite the seemingly, absent of this desire in many people working in organizations, coaching is still the best means to motivate and empower individuals to perform. Some of the issues that a manager-coach may need to be aware in their subordinate-coachee are:

Being in the comfort zone

Some individuals in the organization are comfortable where they are. They are happy there and have little desire to assume more or higher responsibilities.

Fear of repercussion

This would probably rank among the top misconception that an individual has during the coaching process. Many subordinates believe that by being frank and honest about their feelings and thoughts, the manager-coach might not like what they hear and hence negative repercussion might occur.

Fear of failure

Coaching is about drawing out solutions from the individual and empowering them to take risk and responsibility on their actions. This can be frightening when the perceived risk level is high on the subordinates scale.

"I'm more experienced that you" attitude

This might happen in situations where the subordinate, by virtue of his length of service and experience, may find difficult accepting a younger manager supervising them. Their ego comes in their way. However, the paradox here is that the coaching approach is perhaps the best approach to use in such situation.

Other Barriers

1) "I don't have the time"

New managers always feel that the coaching process just takes too much of their time to do it. This perception may stem from a few possibilities.

  •  These managers do not truly understand what coaching is (and see it as counseling) or they might be doing it the wrong way. Some of them end up discussing the issues with the coachee instead of coaching them. They get sucked into the issue and as a result got lost in the maze. They get led away into other unrelated issues and end up feeling overwhelmed with nothing resolved. So they walk away feeling that coaching is ineffective and it takes up a lot of their time
  •  The managers may feel that they have "too much work" to do and they consider it to be more important completing those tasks than to invest time with their subordinates. It might be partly due to the system in the organization that measures only bottom-line results and hence managers focused on it entirely putting people development in the back seat.

Such managers need to seriously review what they are doing and ask themselves this coaching question; "What do I need to do differently to be more effective in managing my time and my work?" Sometimes their workload might be due to them doing their subordinate's work because it would be much faster that way instead of teaching and coaching them to do it; all in the name of urgency.

There was this manager, Sam, in a pharmaceutical company, who worked long hours trying to complete his workload and his work got piled up more and more by the day. Upon our coaching conversation, I discovered that he has three subordinates and he felt that they were not up to the level to take on some of the workload off him. So he chose to do those works himself and hope that one day he can delegate more to them. When asked what he is doing to move closer towards that day, he replied that he doesn't have the time to coach and teach them! What an irony. To make the story short, he later discovered that he held certain beliefs about the capabilities of people and since then, he has had more time to play golf.

2) Knowing too much

One of the coaching principles is that you don't offer a ready solution to the coachee whenever he has a problem. It is a paradox and a huge barrier when the manager knows too much of the subject matter and expect him not to tell the subordinate the answers. It may seem an irony for him not to share what he knows when the solution is so obvious. To him, it is blatant a waste of time getting the coachee to explore solutions when he has it on the edge of his lips. He has to contend with this dilemma; to get the work done or to develop the subordinate?

Giving solutions is of course a faster way to solve problems in the short term but will take up more of the manager's time attending to them in the long run. Most managers seemed to know too much against their own good as coaches. As a coach, you allow your coachee to explore solutions. These managers seemed to have answers and solutions to most of their subordinate's work problems that they automatically get into the advising and telling mode on how to do it.

It is also a barrier to his personal development. When he thinks he knows more than others, he stops learning and everyone does things his way. When he is not around, everything stops because there is no one to tell the people what to do. They have not been trained to make decisions and no one dares and even wants to take responsibility in making decisions. Then the same manager laments that he is surrounded by people who lacks initiative! It's amazing he can't see that he created them!

3) Habit of telling and advising

We have grown up in a culture that uses the telling, teaching and advising approach by our parents, teaches and bosses. So is it surprising to you then that you would use the same methods to teach and develop your children and subordinates? We have been programmed and it is like going into auto pilot.

Once your subordinate presents you with a problem, your reflex is to present a solution for it. If your subordinate presents you with an opinion on why it might not be workable, you end up accusing him of being difficult and negative. It's a no win situation for him. So he gets smart by reading your behavior and gives you the corporate nod and a lip service that he will try it out, knowing very well to him that it will not work. He gets back to you later to report, what he already knew, and you then accuse him of not trying hard enough!

4) Need to feel important (Ego)

This is a tough one to overcome. Some of our egos are as big as hot air balloons! The hotter the issue is; the bigger your ego in wanting to provide solutions and feel important that you solved it.

Can you imagine out of 10 times your subordinates come running to you, you with hold your opinion and get him to provide the solutions in all the ten times? You can't right? You will soon begin to wonder what your value is as a manager. So unless your intention to develop your coachee is genuine, you might even play the game of pretending to coach. The acid test to your intention as a coach is when things go wrong. Do you assume the blame and take the heat from senior management or do you conveniently say that that was not your solution and you didn't know about it?

Some managers fear that their coachee might not respect them if they keep throwing the issues back at them to resolve. Your coachee might even think; "I can do his job! Just throw back the problem to the person and get him to solve it. Easy!" The acid test again in this case is how you do it. Behavior speaks louder than words. If you show sincerity in developing the coachee, these thoughts will not cross his mind because he can feel that you are doing it for his own good. We will talk about how to do this in a proper way at length in the coaching skills chapter.

5) Lack of coaching skill

It is always a frustration learning new skills, right? Keep practicing and you will get the hang of it and learn to love it too. Very soon, it will become second nature to you and you will coach with every opportunity without even realizing it. Some mistakes new coaches make are:

  •  Being too intense
    When you are too intense about how you are communicating to a level of being artificial, then you are actually creating a barrier. You need to learn to relax into this.
  •  Talking too much
    You need to learn to be comfortable with silence, and actually uses it as a tool to advance your coachee.
  •  Self-referencing
    You can communicate without pointing out that you are doing it. Remember, you are being yourself, not explaining who that is.
  •  The need to be right
    This is an ego and a face issue. Sometimes we justify our actions and behaviors and say things to support our thinking to the point of saying that the coachee's thinking is wrong. As coaches, remember that it is ok to be wrong. Learn to be comfortable when the coachee has a different set of values than yours. Just acknowledge it and get on with the main purpose, helping the coachee.

6) Task completion versus subordinate development

Some managers view their performance in terms of their ability to deliver and complete projects and assignments on time for their bosses. So they become very task- centric. Their actions are dictated by their urge to mobilize resources to complete a given task without much consideration given on the development of their subordinates. This phenomenon can be also be partly contributed by some organization's culture of being entirely numbers-driven and results-focused. Developing subordinates is something intangible and difficult to quantify and so they avoid it.

7) Feeling threatened and selfish

This is a natural survival instinct. "If I develop them to be better than I am, then I may be out of a job in this organization or I may end up reporting to him!" While this is flawed thinking, some managers may secretly agree with it. These managers will get replaced sooner rather than later if they don't develop their subordinates. They will end up being the bottle neck in their operation and this will stick out like a sore thumb.

Subordinates will leave you due to lack of development and your leadership ineffectiveness will show up sooner or later.

8) Conflict between manager's personal agenda and subordinate's agenda

In the true spirit of coaching, the coach does not have an agenda for the coachee. The coach works with whatever the coachee wants to work on. Sometimes the coachee might feel that the work he is doing is not suitable for him and that he does not have interest in it. The manager, as a coach on the other hand might want him to stay on the job for his own selfish reason. This conflict might create a less than desirable coaching situation.


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Author: Wai K Leong
Publisher: JMC

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Book Size: 5.4 MB or 228 pages

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I am always impressed with Wai's ability to be with the client and coach them from where they are. He brings clarity and authenticity to his coaching. He is able to reach the heart of the matter with grace and skill.

Joanne Waldman
M.Ed, PCC, LPC, NCC New Perspective Coaching

Wai has a very professional Coaching Presence. He consistently listens on a deep level-he has a true talent here. He moves his client skillfully to Designing Actions, based on the client's focus. He is very honoring of his clients and asks good follow-up questions.

Sheri Boone
MCC, CL Inspired Mastery