One Change Leaders Can Make Right Now to Improve Tough Corrective Coaching, Part 3

(Note: In the 18 months since has been up and running, this series has resulted in the most email comments and questions by far. I’m going to do my best to address each question with the most practical content I can as the series moves along. Thanks very much to all who have written in.)

My intent in this series is to address the leadership issue about which I am asked frequently in my teaching and consulting: How do I correct someone without it being agonizing (and unproductive) for me and the person? How do I tell someone they’re not doing it right and they need to be better?

In Part 1, I addressed the most important factor I see in these leadership situations. Offer correction with an approach that best fits the person you are leading, NOT your own default approach or the one that works best for you. Perfectionists tend to offer too much corrective feedback too often. Conflict avoiders tend to avoid correction, in hopes that things will get better by osmosis, which of course seldom works. Other leaders try oblique attacks, etc.

Instead, take the time to learn what is most effective for each different individual you lead.

In Part 2, I addressed the focus when you are in the middle of the problem. When planning your coaching conversation, determine two critical truths: First,  in what specific way would you like performance to change. Second – and most important since we often forget – why is that change desirable? How can you connect the desired performance change to the larger purpose of your church, business or organization? If you can’t connect it to mission/vision/values/purpose/plan, it might not be worth the conversation. It may be just a matter of preference for you.

Keep in mind that the goal of these coaching sessions isn’t just behavior change, but informed change. In other words, the person must understand the what and why, as mentioned in Part 2, but they also must be able to own the change to a reasonable extent. Otherwise, the new behavior may be partial and/or short-lived.

For that reason, it’s important to get the person involved in the conversation about the change, as opposed to having a one-way conversation in which you tell the person what to do and then monitor the change. That approach may work for simple tasks that require little cognitive processing. But it’s unlikely to succeed when you are coaching persons who must lead, make decisions, and effectively deal with ambiguity.

So, make self-evaluation part of the process. I’m referring to this self-evaluation on two levels. First, it refers to a formal self-evaluation process as part of regular performance review. But I’m also talking about the tough coaching conversation that’s at the heart of this post series.

You come into those conversations with perspectives, opinions, wants, needs and frustrations. You want the behavior changed and, frankly, you’re getting tired of dealing with it. So you may not, truthfully, care what their perspective on the matter is. (Since we’re being honest.) However, if you want long-term change out of a servant leadership approach, you don’t start with telling, you start with asking.


Do you have everything you need to succeed?
How can I serve you more effectively?
What’s your biggest frustration right now?
What obstacles do you wish weren’t in the way?
For you, what are the most important functions of your job/role?
What are some things you really want to accomplish this year?
Which relationships are working for you and which aren’t?
How do you think your job/role is most misunderstood by others?
How would you like to change your job/role?
Where do you feel the most pressure?
How does your work connect most closely with our mission?
Tell me what you think I don’t get about your job/role.

You get the idea. Start with a determination to learn and then use what you learn to deepen your understanding of the person and the job/role from their perspective. If, during the conversation, the person asks, “Why all the questions?” or “What are you getting at?” or “Why are we really here?” the right answer is a direct one.

“I want us to be on the same page in terms of the expectations we have for each other and I just realized I’ve done too much talking and not enough listening…”


“I have some ideas about where we can go from here but I’m determined to go there together so I want your perspective first…”

You’d be amazed at how powerful questions can be when you so desperately want to tell, order, command, or even berate. Sometimes, the solutions are in the questions.

Up next, the stories and behavior change.



  1. […] Part 3 concerned asking good questions and listening before telling. […]

  2. […] Part 3 concerned asking good questions and listening before telling. […]