Is Everyone Coachable?

Posted on January 18, 2012.

It was early in my management career when Larry started reporting to me. He was a salesman, a really nice guy and very likable.  He got along with everyone in the office and every year just managed to squeak by and make his goal. After a couple of years of just making it, Larry started to fall behind.  To make matters worse, more than one of his clients called to complain that he lacked responsiveness, didn’t really add value and had difficulty answering questions about products and services.  Clearly it was time to sit Larry down and give him some feedback.  Here’s what happened.

“Larry, you’re falling behind in your goals and I’ve received some negative feedback from your clients”. (me)

             “I don’t believe you.” (Larry)

Frankly, this response left me speechless. It took me awhile to regroup and provide Larry with specific examples of both where he was falling behind and what his client’s said. While he acknowledged he was not meeting goals, he felt very confident that he would be fine by the end of the year. He also wanted me to produce the evidence of what his client’s were saying.  Basically, unless he saw it in writing, he wasn’t buying it. 

Where do you go with someone you’re trying to coach and they just refuse to see themselves as they really are? Larry thought he was a top-notch salesman, whose clients loved him and was just having a slow start to the year.  I’d like to say that if you keep working with the Larrys of the world everything will turn out, but they don’t.

What I learned the hard way is that anyone who lacks complete self awareness and can’t accept feedback is simply not coachable.  You can’t save everyone so focus your attention and coaching on the people that can improve. Ultimately, after almost another year, I had to let Larry go. It was a tough year, but it made me a better manager and more aware of the limitations every manager must face.