What to Do When a Staff Member Is Uncoachable

Attitude is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a person who is uncoachable.
Attitude is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a person who is uncoachable. (Flickr )

I will admit that I'm leery to write this article.

Writing about a subject that is so very subjective and far more art than science, in a bullet and numbered list format, makes me nervous. But I'm trusting that you will grant me grace by adding the heart and nuances of story from your own situation.

The bottom line is that you can't coach anyone who doesn't want to be coached.

There are some obvious indicators that your developmental effort is not productive, such as:

  • You are working harder for their growth than they are.
  • They don't want to change and grow.
  • There is no progress.

But we all know there is more to it than that.

In my role as XP, my heart is to coach leaders to be their best. I want each person to learn, grow, excel and flourish. My desire for each individual is to love and enjoy their job and do well at it.

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In most cases, coaching staff results in a positive and productive outcome. Everyone wins. The leader grows and the church makes progress. That's what we all hope for.

But what happens when this process breaks down?

What should we do if a staff member appears to be uncoachable?

Important questions to ask of yourself:

  1. Have you been consistent in your communication?
  2. Is your relationship a positive one?
  3. Have you been clear in your expectations?
  4. Do you encourage often?
  5. Do you speak the truth when needed rather than taking the easy route?
  6. Have you added value to this person?
  7. Do they know you care?


Before you can assess anyone as uncoachable, it's important that you can assess yourself as doing well according to these seven questions. It's not about being a perfect leadership coach. None of us can do that. But it's likely that you have a quick sense about how you are doing as you read those questions. If you rated yourself as clearly needing improvement, I recommend that you immediately invest significant effort to improve before you press too hard on your staff member.

On the other hand, let's assume you are a doing well as a leadership coach.

Important questions to ask of the staff member:

  1. Are they committed to and in alignment with the vision?
  2. Are they experiencing any personal struggles at home?
  3. Are they in the wrong job?
  4. Is it an attitude issue?
  5. Is it a competence issue?
  6. Is their walk with God all it should be?
  7. Is their calling clear?

The answers to these questions will give you great insight about how to coach for the best results. We often go immediately after competence but you'll note that of the seven questions, only one is about competence. Competence is critically important, but no one can improve their leadership skills in a vacuum. Leadership is a holistic endeavor; the whole leader and their whole life.

My experience has taught me that of that entire list of seven questions, it's nearly always that a truly uncoachable person is that way due to their attitude (Question 4). For the most part, all the other issues are coachable! The variations to the story are many, but it's often a combination of things like this:

Top 10 list for uncoachables:

  1. They know all the answers.
  2. They don't listen.
  3. They have a critical spirit.
  4. They can't see the problem.
  5. They won't own the problem.
  6. They are unhappy.
  7. They complain often.
  8. They are defensive.
  9. They don't want to change.
  10. They won't make any sincere effort.

So, how do you handle this?

Here's a sample plan:

1. Confront the poor attitude head on. Describe the change you require, make it specific and set a deadline. You can do that because attitude is a choice. All other coaching requires substantial amounts of time. But a person can change a bad attitude to a good attitude the moment they decide to.

2. Explain the consequences of choosing to maintain a negative or poor attitude. This is where you must decide what you will live with. For us, we choose not to reward (pay) for a bad attitude. We are huge into coaching, very patient, and have lots of grace, but not for a stinky attitude. We can get that for free. We will release a staff member for a bad attitude. You decide what you will pay for in your church.

3. Lead staff according to your values. Don't declare a consequence you are not prepared to live up to, and don't declare a consequence your board won't support. Whatever behavior your culture supports and conversely will not tolerate, lead to that culture.

Coaching is difficult, but don't give up, it's worth it!

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

For the original article, visit danreiland.com.

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