Question: Persuading a reluctant professional to get coached

My ex-manager is a seasoned IT manager in a Fortune 100 company. His performance has been consistently off-the-charts for over a decade.

Many of the company's top execs and product leaders consider him the resident expert in all matters related to technology infrastructure and programs.

Yet, he has been overlooked for promotion for several years. I suspect his hard-nosed, closed execution style might be to blame.

I, among others, have recommended he get an executive coach. But he is convinced that would diminish his performance and cramp his style.

Is there a way to persuade an otherwise brilliant, results-focussed professional?

8 Expert Insights

There is no sure way to persuade him to work with a coach, but it may be helpful to point out that top professionals in every field have coaches and profit from working with them.  You might try to find some testimonial evidence from other top professionals who talk about what a coach has done for them or their career.  A google search for executive coaching success stories turns up quite a few options to look at.  Many coaches also offer no charge first sessions or analysis sessions.  You may be able to get this person to explore the coaching options through something like that.

No matter what you do, though, you have to accept the reality that this person may just not be coachable.  Some people are just unwilling to work on themselves in this way.  If that's the case there really is nothing you can do.



When people aren't doing something they logically ought to, there's often a part of them that has objections--quite possibly valid ones--that aren't getting honored.  I'd want to find a way to make those discussable and get really curious about them.  If you're successful in that--and not coming from an agenda that holds them inherently invalid--you will reach a place where you can say, "aha, I get your concerns about coaching:  they're blah blah that right?"  Then find out what that part wants for the person.  If you're still doing this in a way that's honoring the part that holds an objection, you can then start a negotiation--e.g., so if there were some form of coaching could be done in a way that further what you want, and avoid what you don't, what else would you need to see to be open to exploring it.  When those questions are answered, you will have an opportunity to design an experiment that would give the individual a way to be open to coaching, as well as a good understand of how it would have to be structured to work.

BTW, you can't persuade anyone to do coaching.  If that's important to you, don't bother.  But you might be able to bring enough curiosity to them and yourself that the person might persuade themselves.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  (An ancient Zen teaching.)

There is a high probability he has conflated his identity (as a human Being) with his professional persona (as a human Doing).  From this space, the very thoughts about the openness, humility and vulnerability required in any successful coaching relationship are probably terrifying and paralyzing!

Has the senior executive who controls his destiny had a “come to Buddha” conversation with your ex-manager explaining how his “hard-nosed, closed execution style” is limiting his career?  I’m a bit surprised that his behavior has not been addressed long ago.  I’ve seen this drive to be “The Expert” threaten to derail more than one promising career in recent years.  Open, collaborative behavior is now regarded as a threshold skill.

If he is to be “persuaded” to become more collaborative and open in his style, he must decide, in terms of his own values and fears, that the reward is worth the risk.  Coercion will not work:  “A man persuaded against his will is of the same mind still.”  (W. Shakespeare)

A good friend, Jim Haudan of Root Inc, has said for years, "People will tolerate your conclusions, but they will act on their own".  I've never seen anything that contradicts this. You and others believe he'd benefit from executive coaching; he doesn't agree - he's acting on his own conclusions.

So here we have an executive who has performed off the charts, but who has been overlooked for promotion. His technical skills and knowledge seem to be greatly admired, but he has a 'hard-nosed, closed execution style'. I'm going to assume this means he is a bit flat on the people side of business performance.

It may well be that he prefers his style to a potential promotion. Perhaps the rapidly accumulating data about employee engagement and business performance could be persuasive. If his performance to date has been has been the 'get the life raft to shore but it's full of dead bodies' variety, he ought to be made a bit less secure about the durability of that performance. If he aspires to a higher office, he should be made aware of the power of technical + social capabilities to deliver sustainable business results.

Your inquiry raises one important question to me.  Does this person want a promotion?  Or ... is it presumed by others that he MUST want this because he is so capable and doesn't everyone want to climb higher and higher up that ladder?  I am confident that the answer is 'no'.  Everyone does NOT want to keep climbing.  In this person's case you indicate ... "His performance has been consistently off-the-charts for over a decade.  Many of the company's top execs and product leaders consider him the resident expert in all matters related to technology infrastructure and programs"

It is very possible that he really likes his role and how he is viewed and respected by other top execs.  He doesn't know that he will be a successful in another position.  The fact that he has been passed up many times for promotion just might be another indication that he is very happy in his current role.  If he weren't, there is a good chance that he wouldn't have stayed after many rejections simply because of the toll it takes on one's ego among other things.

As a coach I admit that I believe strongly in the value this can bring in helping a person or a team move from one place to another.  However, in this case I think the initial inquiry is to understand what goals the person has for himself and in what ways his current role fulfills them.  I recently worked with a person in a senior position in a company.  She was simply outstanding at what she did ... for many years.  Then, watching others advance she thought she really should want that for herself.  She was given the opportunity and after a short while she asked to return to her previous position.  She realized that being happy in a job in which she was the 'master' is what made her fulfilled.

Before offering a solution for this person, I suggest  someone get curious with him in understanding the reasons he is happy in their current position.  A company needs these people as much as those who want to climb.

I do not believe anybody can be convinced to get a coach. As a matter of fact if somebody is forced into a coaching experience against his/her will it will accomplish nothing. In my coaching career I had one case like that and I had to finally tell her boss that he is wasting his money and I am wasting my time and recommended that the coaching relationship be discontinued.

I like many others offer a free coaching/evaluation session and would be happy to talk to this individual and find out from him why he is rejecting getting coached. Obviously, I would hope that he might change his mind, but if he does not, there is nothing one can do. One thing I want you to know is that whatever this individual and I discuss I cannot share with you unless he agrees that I do so.

Ah, I know the personality well.

It is alway best if the candidate WANTS the opportunity availed to him by coaching … an opportunity to fine tune skills that can have significant impact on their performance and in this situation their promotability.

The first question that I have is "does the company need to promote him?" If there is no real benefit to his being promoted, then why be concerned? He performs well in his current position. (The last thing that you would want is a Peter Principle phenomenon to happen.) There are other ways to reward good performance without promoting them. And often promotions mean more management of people and with his "his hard-nosed, closed execution style" he probably would not do well managing others.

The second question that I have is, "does he want to be promoted?" If he does not really care to be promoted but merely wants to be recognized, there are other ways to recognize employees.  If in fact  he wants to be promoted and there are special skills or aptitudes that he needs to develop to be successful in the new position, then you might make a targeted coaching assignment part of the promotion. In this case you can sell the coaching as grooming him for the new position. This will hopefully increase his buy-in or investment in the process.

my colleagues have all offered great advice and I concur with them. Given that none of us has actually spoken to him all we have is conjecture about what's going on.
A. no one can be forced/persuaded to be coached. if you have to it's already an uphill battle
B. there may be root cause to resist change in the collapse of identity with validation..he's been getting validated for his top performance so from his frame why would he change? He doesn't as yet have a compelling enough reason to.
C. he may/may not want the promotion, without a burning desire to have it pushed up against the cost of not shifting his style then this may simply be a futile exercise on both your parts.
D. If he does want it, he may think that he should just get it based on performance and lacks the distinctions leadership is asking for him to modify. He may even think he's already "there" from a leadership POV...yet clearly he isn't.
E. it could well be that his top performance in the role is in the way....sometimes leadership has a great performer in a specific role and the gap is less about him moving up than it is about who fills his job?
F. curiosity is helpful here...what exactly does he mean by 'diminish his performance' and 'cramp his style'? without having clarity about what exactly he perceives is at risk you can't uncover what's being masked.
G. Lastly, as a long time executive coach,. I agree with others about not forcing him and my phrase is "never drag anyone kicking and screaming to success."  It's a waste of time and energy.

best of luck, someone suggested hiring a coach for a single session to get to the source of the "resistance" that may be worth your money, at least you'd have clarity about what's really going on.