When coaching other people, it’s sometimes valuable to take stock of both sides of the relationship. Effective development requires the coach to be constructively candid and the coached person to be engaged and ready to grow. If either of these elements is missing, results will be meager.

Take an honest look at how you are coaching this person.

  1. How clear have you been in your communication with them? Remember, repetition is not clarity. Can they describe for you in their own words what you just said? If not, you did not get your message across. This is on you, not them.
  2. Similarly, are the expectations you have for them plainly outlined? Does success mean the same thing to both of you? This goes beyond “doing their best” or “trying hard.” Many leaders get frustrated when their expectations are not met, but they were never laid out clearly in the first place. Likewise, the coached person can get demotivated when they perform “well” but still disappoint the leader.
  3. Have you adjusted your coaching method to their best learning style? Visual learners like to see it (pictures, videos, etc.). Auditory learners need it explained, maybe a few times. Kinesthetic learners prefer to touch, feel, or demonstrate with their hands/body for it to stick. If you coach everyone the same way, some will miss out.
  4. Have you been clear whether the situation you are discussing is a negotiation, a collaboration, or an edict? Each of these requires a different kind of response from the coached person. Before you launch into a topic, let them know how much input or influence they have over the outcome. If you don’t, they’ll likely guess wrong and give you feedback you can’t use… or no response at all.
  5. Is failure acceptable? Be honest: do you see failure as an opportunity for growth, or evidence of incompetence? Mistakes are inevitable. Repeating the same mistake is what gives coaches something to do. The “failure is not an option” mindset is plain silly.

Take an honest look at the person you are coaching.

  1. Are they asking you questions so they can improve? If so, it’s a good sign that they’re engaged and hungry for growth. If not, I would wonder about their motivation and willingness to seek help.
  2. Do they accept responsibility for the task/problem/opportunity at hand? Are they looking to grab on or to deflect? If the monkey of responsibility has not hopped onto their back, even the best coaching will be fruitless.
  3. Are they capable of doing what’s needed? If public speaking is required of their role, but they get heart palpitations at the very thought, maybe coaching them up to mediocrity (at best) isn’t the answer.
  4. Are they putting in the effort? You’ve coached them well, they understood, and the plan was clear… but balls keep dropping, and they don’t seem to be committed. This is an accountability problem, not a coaching one.
  5. Is failure acceptable? Despite what you say as their coach, are they a perfectionist such that trying new things, taking risks, making mistakes, etc. are viewed as embarrassing, shameful, or puts their job in jeopardy? People living with these fears want to improve to feel more secure, but the risk of change can also feel threatening.

If your coaching process with someone has reached a snag or plateau, it’s a good bet that running through the questions above will give you some new openings to change your approach, address an underlying issue, and regain momentum.