One Change Leaders Can Make Right Now to Improve Tough Corrective Coaching

One of your associate pastors, Bill, is a 26 year-old who has been on your staff for two years. He is working on his doctorate and has expressed a call of the Lord to be a senior pastor someday. Bill is smart, creative and passionate. He’s been a primary reason why your Sunday morning attendance is up. But, there’s a problem. Actually, there are two problems. First, Bill has difficulties with his temper, angering quickly. He quite often will “snap” and have loud harsh words for other staff members and even members of the congregation. You have more than a few emails asking you to do something about him. The second problem is that Bill can’t see the first problem. He often laughs off his outbursts, making a joke and quickly returning to “normal.” He doesn’t see any problem and, when you have attempted to approach him about it, he quickly tells you not to worry and claims others are just too “thin skinned.” After all, he argues, didn’t Jesus get angry when he was cleansing the temple?

Terry is the best volunteer Sunday School teacher you have, by far. She is organized and devoted. Her class loves her and is always at capacity. Truth is, if all the teachers were as strong as Terry, you wouldn’t have room to fit everyone in the building on Sunday morning. She’s a superstar. But Terry is also one of the most territorial teachers you’ve ever known. Her class is her class. In the couple of times she has been ill over the past two years, she has canceled the class rather than allowed a sub to stand in for her. She won’t take help or delegate. She won’t entertain the idea of training up new leaders so the class can grow beyond its current size. You need her, but you’re not sure how long things can stay this way.

Clark Townes is Godly, wealthy and generous. He was on the church board before you became senior pastor and welcomed you warmly, remaining one of your strongest advocates. Every church board needs someone like Clark. But it’s something Clark doesn’t do that is causing a problem. Clark simply won’t attend board meetings. The by-laws call for faithful attendance in order to maintain board member status. They also call for members to notify you in advance if they will miss a meeting. Clark misses most of the monthly board meetings and never lets you know in advance. He usually makes a friendly call the following day to “get an update.” This has gone on for years. The problem is that excusing Clark over and over again has created a kind of favored status that others, particularly the new/younger members, are starting to notice. It’s a problem that is beginning to undermine your credibility as a leader.

What would you do in these situations? What do you do when you have to correct someone?

Providing corrective coaching might be the most difficult challenge for a leader. It’s relatively easy to encourage, thank or reward those you lead. Those are the kinds of behaviors we like. We can even listen carefully to someone we lead who is having problems or act as a mediator between two people in conflict.

But it’s tough to look someone in the eye and tell them they simply aren’t good enough in a particular area of performance, that they aren’t measuring up and you expect improvement. It’s correction or constructive coaching. It’s performance evaluation in which a gap in performance – a difference between expected and actual performance – is identified that must be repaired by a change in behavior resulting in meeting expectations.

If you’re a leader, I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about without much further explanation. If you’re a parent, I know you know what I’m talking about.

These corrective coaching sessions are difficult because they are risky. At best, you are likely to surprise the person you lead, at worst, hurt them. You may have to deal with their negative emotions and the relational mess that creates. You also may see the relationship damaged. You might lose them, literally or figuratively. Bad things could happen.

(English teachers avert your eyes.) Yet you can’t not address it any longer.

My purpose in writing this post series is to address the one thing you can do to begin to approach these issues in ways that make the best out of a challenging situation. I’ll introduce the concept here, and then unpack it with some suggestions in the succeeding posts.


Very simply, here’s the one thing you can change: Approach the corrective coaching from their perspective and not yours.

Here’s what I mean. If you are a perfectionist, for instance, one problem you may have in raising children is that you feel the need to correct every single unacceptable behavior in your ten year-old’s day. By the end of that day, you may have made 30 or 40 separate corrections from table manners to room cleanliness to TV habits to dressing. Yet most people can’t understand and digest 30 corrections in a day. Especially if they are children and especially if they aren’t perfectionists themselves. So the smart parent considers the child before adopting a strategy of behavior correction. Maybe, for instance, you work on one particular behavior in a given day and hold your tongue the other 29 times during that day.

Or perhaps you are particularly sensitive about confrontation. You hate it. So at work, you avoid correction at all costs. You want peace no matter what. So you’ll leap tall buildings to avoid giving someone corrective feedback. When you do give corrective coaching, it’s so coated in sugar that it’s barely recognizable as coaching at all. But Alice, who is one of your direct reports at work, needs regular feedback. She would like to check in just about every day to get a picture of her performance, good or bad. She hates the feeling of not knowing where she stands.

We tend to offer corrective coaching out of our own perspectives, personality, fears and foibles. Yet, correction isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. The best coaching fits the person being coached. Since this kind of feedback can be intimidating or scary (for both parties) research indicates that we tend to use a knee jerk approach and just default to our own stuff.

So the best and most important change you can make is to alter that approach completely.

Begin your approach to corrective coaching by identifying your own tendencies and then beginning the process of determining what works best for each individual you lead. Put your own tendencies away and adopt those coaching behaviors that are most effective for the particular individual involved.

I’ll unpack the concept moving forward.


  1. […] Part 1, I addressed the most important factor I see in these leadership situations. Offer correction with […]

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