Coaching a senior leader to help them become more effective in their role is a challenge and a privilege. Coaching someone who doesn’t listen is a whole new ball game!
You’d think that someone who has reached out for coaching help would be committed to the cause. Especially if they have invested significant time and finance. Sometimes senior leaders receive coaching support not because they want it, but because their boss or HR has recommended it. Maybe that’s one of the key reasons why listening might be a challenge when it comes to coaching sessions! But whoever has initiated the coaching relationship, what are the reasons for listening being a problem?
1. Corrective feedback isn’t welcome, or just gets lost
One of the major aspects of coaching is to provide feedback. The coach listens to the leader, may observe them in action, possibly reviews psychometric or 360 feedback results, and takes soundings from others. All of this results in feedback. Human nature dictates that good feedback is always much more palatable, but surely the point of coaching is to learn how to get better! And this may involve listening to some tough feedback.
In my experience, there is a big difference between someone hearing feedback and listening to it. I can recall one leader who I have coached on and off over the past 4 years. He is incredibly receptive when we meet, but never changes – (a slight exaggeration!) Sometimes I would write down reflections and email them to him … only for them never to re-appear again. And when I start the conversation with, “let’s go over the actions we discussed last time”, they always have to be repeated because he’s not taken them on board. My conclusion is that he’s not owning the changes he needs to make, he doesn’t process feedback by listening and translating this into actions, and it is evident that he’s not changing. In instances like this I have to make a decision as a coach to withdraw and recommend someone else he can work with – maybe a different approach and different voice will be helpful.
2. They’re too busy
Coaching requires concentration and corrective action. To conduct a coaching conversation and then go back to normal because life is just so busy, isn’t going to gain any benefit from the investment. The best leaders take time to listen, learn and live differently. They are able to be coached, develop methods for change, and intentionally try to imbibe new behaviors and attitudes. Busyness is a condition that will either control someone, or be tamed by them.
3. Lost in translation
One of the best coaching disciplines is to ask the leader to summarize the feedback they have heard and the actions they intend to take – in their own words. We all have filters, and when someone hears feedback it doesn’t always have the same resonance meant by the giver of that feedback. So, it’s always helpful for the leader themselves to write their own action plan and development actions. Indeed, this in itself can be the subject of a good follow-up conversation with the coach if the leader’s listening has somehow delivered a different paradigm than the coach’s.
Like any good doctor, coaches need to conduct periodic hearing (listening) tests with their coachees. It’s not patronizing – just ensuring that they get the benefit from the time and investment to help them be better leaders.