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How to Help Uncoachable Sally


Thu Apr 14 2016

How to Help Uncoachable Sally

Whether you are a formal or informal coach, manager, parent, or best friend, you will experience a challenge something like this: “How do I help Sally be more coachable…because…um…she seems uncoachable?”

In Coaching Basics (The Second Edition just came out! I am Super pumped!), I assert that one of the most important things a great coach can do is help improve performer “coachability.” It’s a conundrum, though. If Sally isn’t coachable, it’s not easy to help her open up and learn from others. Or it is?


Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to being coached is that coaches can be too quick to write off the Sallys in our lives. Sometimes coaches even think, “If Sally does not want my coaching, I won’t waste my time.”

But, wait…

The essence of coaching is doing whatever—and being whoever—is needed most to help performers like Sally move forward. Within reason, of course. I am not suggesting you rob a bank for Sally because she needs money or that you rub her feet because she needs a masseur, of course.

Improving performer coachability is one of the six purposes of coaching. In fact, I think it might be the most powerful and underutilized factors of coaching. Why? Because we think it will be too hard. Even well-known executive coach Marshall Goldsmith is famous for saying that we should not coach the uncoachable.

But, wait…


If you can help Sally become more coachable, you will open up a world of opportunities. This is akin to the parable about whether you should “give a man a fish” or “teach him to fish.” When we are highly coachable, we experience possibilities we otherwise can’t imagine (especially if we are in small mode or what I call “uncoachability”).

  • Belief #1 = Trying to help Sally be more coachable is a worthy endeavor. 

  • Belief #2 = Belief #1 is only true up to a point, not forever—and only if Sally chooses to pull into your efforts.

But wait…

We still need to answer the question: How can we help Sally be more coachable? This practice is a regular part of my work—and I know a lot of Sallys. Here are the practices that have been most successful for me when working with uncoachable employees.

  • Start with yourself. You MUST believe in every performer’s capacity to change. If you don’t think Sally can or will change, you will be correct. But everyone can change. Most don’t, but they all have the opportunity and capacity for change. Don’t give up.

  • Create more pull. Sally might be uncoachable because you are not engaging her brain enough. To create interest and excitement, be more interesting and exciting. Coach through the filter of what most entices Sally, not what you’d want if you were Sally.

  • Ask great questions. Not leading questions. Not obvious questions. Instead, ask questions that are either provocative or evocative.

  • Show an honest interest. Better yet, express a fascination with Sally and her goals. Listen deeply; demonstrate what I call the “sponge stance.” When we listen to Sally deeply, she will hold her head higher, think bigger, and feel nourished by our honest interest. It’s a practice that works to open coachability better than any other technique I have tried, and it costs nothing but a few minutes of your undivided attention. (Don’t confuse this with active listening, in which you parrot back, “What I heard you say is....” This is not what Sally needs right now.)

Bottom line: Performers make things happen, coaches don’t. Our measure of success is our impact on performers. It is time well spent to help the Sallys in your life become more coachable performers.

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