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4 coaching mistakes and how to course-correct

How to keep coaching focused on what matters.

3 min read



Coaching employees to improve performance can be tricky. Even though your intentions are good, your employees may resist or get defensive. If you get distracted, the conversation goes south without you knowing why. Here are four mistakes leaders make when coaching employees and four course corrections to get it right.

  1. Wrong vibe
  2. Lack of clarity
  3. Wrong focus
  4. Allowing distraction

Wrong vibe

Even if you intend to be positive, your anxiety about improving the numbers may send out the wrong vibe. Employees have a radar for your emotional energy, and can almost feel your resentment about their lack of production. Here’s why: Everything is energy. Your emotions, language and behavior emits an electromagnetic field of negative or positive energy that others can sense.

Course correction: Check your energy before entering into coaching. Make sure you put out a positive vibe where employees feel encouraged and supported.

Lack of clarity

When I’m coaching owners or executives, they often use nebulous phrases such as “My employees are not engaged,” or “I’m not sure if Jada is the right fit.” When I say, “How would you know if they were engaged, and how would you know if Jada is the right fit?” the answer is something like, “It’s difficult to define.” Yet, if you can’t define it, you won’t know it when you see it. This lack of clarity spills over into the employee’s understanding of expectations.

Course correction: Create a description for your terms. What does “successful” look like. What is your definition for “engaged,” and how would you know the right fit from the wrong fit if it looked you in the face? If you can’t name it, you can’t claim it.

Wrong focus

When coaching employees, don’t spend so much time focusing on past mistakes and problems. Focusing on the past will be experienced as judgment and blame from the employee’s point of view.

Course correction: Speak to the vision instead of speaking about the past. Paint a picture of your desired future and, even when the conversation is difficult, you will inspire your employees by your vision.

Allowing distraction

If your coaching conversation turned into verbal ping-pong, it’s likely because the employees led you to “Distraction Island.” Here’s why: You have uncovered a weakness, and it’s easier for them to ask you to coach them on a strength rather than on a weakness. You walk away feeling like you were somehow manipulated, but the behavior is unconscious and reactive. Fact: People use distraction when they are uncomfortable, and you simply took the bait.

Course correction: Stay focused by preparing an agenda. Address any distraction by acknowledging the request and putting the item on a flip chart to address later. It’s OK for everyone to be uncomfortable. When it comes to growth, comfort is not a requirement.

Employees are either in growth mode or protection mode. When people protect, they game the system. When they are growing, they feel safe to learn. Create a learning organization where people are receptive to your coaching and eager to produce.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her website, and connect via Linked In, Facebook and Twitter.

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