One Change Leaders Can Make Right Now to Improve Tough Corrective Coaching, Part 5

This is the one I’ve been wanting to write. I just couldn’t until I had addressed the issues from the previous posts in this series. But this is the one that solves the most problems.

The focus is on leaders having those tough corrective conversations with those they lead. How do you have a productive discussion in which you tell someone – “you’re not doing it right and I need you to do it better”? In my role in university teaching and consulting, it’s something I’m asked all the time.

In Part 1, I suggested leaders offer correction with an approach that best fits the person they are leading, NOT their own default method.

Part 2, focused on planning the coaching conversation.

Part 3 concerned asking good questions and listening before telling.

I addressed the importance of “stories” and behavior change in Part 4.

This time, the power of proactivity.


Seth is a great associate pastor. He’s one of the best preachers we have. He’s just not very good with people.

Marilyn is one of our top IT staffers, I just have to keep her away from our folks who don’t understand technology.

Greg is a top notch nurse. We always call him when one of our EEG units breaks down. He works magic with those things. His weakness is patient care.

No, Sylvia isn’t known for the highest integrity, but she’s so good with people we have to have her.


In my work, I’ve heard almost precisely those comments.

Yet, it should be obvious that Seth really can’t be a “great associate pastor,” if he isn’t good with people. Marilyn is probably not a “top” IT staffer if she runs over people who don’t know what she knows. It’s unlikely that Greg is a “top notch nurse” if he can’t care for patients. And it would be difficult for Sylvia to be described as “good” on any level if she lacks integrity.

What’s often missing in these cases is proactivity in the form of a clear and accurate set of expectations, often found in a well written job description.

In the “Seth” case, I asked: “How does Seth know he is expected to be effective interpersonally? Is it on his job description?” The answer was: “Well, we really don’t use written job descriptions. Shouldn’t it be obvious he can’t be a jerk?”

I guess perhaps it should, but none of that provides any help at all once Seth turns out to be a jerk.

When Seth was hired, before he had a chance to demonstrate his lack of interpersonal skills, his supervisor should have walked carefully through this job description and that document should have explicitly listed performance expectations, not just the importance of maintaining a relationship with Christ and providing skillful biblical exegesis and teaching but skills related to emotional intelligence and interpersonal effectiveness – demonstrating respect, listening empathically, communicating with kindness, etc. Then, the first time after he was hired that he was observed demonstrating rudeness, that’s the time to have the first coaching conversation, pointing back to that job description. It should be made clear to Seth that there is no such thing as effectiveness without the ability to build and maintain healthy relationships.

And as difficult as that conversation is, it’s not nearly as difficult as one without the benefit of clear expectations and immediate feedback.

When Marilyn was promoted to her new position, she and her supervisor should have met. The supervisor then would go over her new job description and responsibilities, with special emphasis on the fact that, as she was being promoted, her ability to “translate” complex IT issues to those who didn’t have that level of knowledge was part of her job. Words such as patience, kindness, and effective interpersonal communication should be written into that job description. It should have been made clear that it would be impossible for Marilyn to be good at her job without demonstrating those skills. Knowledge of technology was simply no longer sufficient. This discussion should have been held prior to the first day in her new responsibilities.

If integrity is one of your core organizational values, it should be mentioned explicitly on every job and purpose description in your organization. (Or something like: “The (position) is expected to reflect stated organizational values consistently.”) If you expect every single person on your team to be effective team members demonstrating patience, optimism and cooperation, those words should be somewhere on their job description or team contract. Then, when you have these difficult conversations, the matter isn’t personal. It doesn’t involve mere opinion or preference on your part as the leader.

If you only do two things, do these two:

1. Provide corrective coaching in ways that work best for the person being coached rather than default to your own favorites or personal style.
2. Proactively communicate all expectations in writing and use those expectations for evaluating performance.

You will dramatically reduce the stress and failure rate related to these tough coaching conversations. No, they won’t become easy, but they will become fewer in frequency and more effective when you do have to have them.

Up next, addressing the scenarios from Part 1.