Tough Corrective Coaching: Conclusion

(For those of you who have suggested that I turn this series into a little e-book, I’m working on it. Thanks so much for your encouragement.)

This concludes a post series I’ve been working on that attempts to help leaders deal with tough corrective coaching discussions – those times when you have to look someone in the eye and tell them they’re not good enough in one or more areas of performance and they must improve.

At the end of this post, I’ll re-cap the series links so you’ll know where to go for each various element.

With this final post, I’ll address the hypothetical scenarios that started the series in Part 1.

Scenario #1 - Anger Management


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?

Proactive Element: Each associate pastor should have a clear job or purpose description that details:

  • Key responsibilities and measures
  • Goals for the performance cycle
  • The organization’s values (and the expectation that they are a key element in how the position’s performance will be evaluated)
  • The method of 360-degree feedback

The last two are critically important in Bill’s case. Interpersonal behaviors such as respect and compassion should be explicit in Bill’s job description. The values of the church should be specified in the job description with behavioral examples. In other, words, it should have been clear from Bill’s very first day of work that he would be evaluated partly on how he treats others (and others’ perception of that treatment).

That is part of 360-degree performance evaluation, in which a person’s colleagues, peers and constituents are queried regularly and anonymously on that person’s performance. Both would have been helpful proactive tools in addressing Bill’s issues. People for whom Bill has pastoral oversight should be able to contribute to his performance evaluation, both for good and not so good. If you would like to see a sample 360-degree survey, send me an email.

What To Do Now: 

  • Communicate to Bill that the situation is not a laughing matter.
  • Make it clear that how people feel when working around him is not unimportant and that, if it’s not already in his job description, you will be adding it.
  • Ask him questions about his “people skills” and listen for key gaps in his answers.
  • In light of the former, ask Bill if he cares for others and, if he does, how he shows it.
  • Bring up a specific situation and ask Bill how he might have handled it differently.
  • You may want to make it clear that, no matter how gifted he is at one or two specific performance responsibilities, there really is no success without demonstrating interpersonal skills such as respect, kindness and compassion.
  • Focus on 1 or 2 behaviors to monitor closely over the next 30 days:
    • “I want you to make a plan for making the Fruit of the Spirit obvious to those who work for and with you over the next 30 days.”
    • “All I want you to focus on over the next 30 days is becoming the best listener the people around you know.”
    • “I’d like you to set a goal that staff members’ best interactions they have in any given day are ones they have with you. Then, let’s talk about what you did to make that happen in a month.”
  • Finally, when it comes to the Lord’s attitude concerning people, you might suggest that Bill start by looking at the cross before he looks at the temple.

Scenario #2 - Control Freak


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.

Proactive Element: Your Sunday School program should have its own set of mission-vision-values-goals in support of the church’s overall strategic plan. Then, in that concise documentation, communicate to teachers what is expected of them – from maintaining an intimate personal relationship with Christ to mentoring and developing new leaders. Ask each teacher to spend one session teaching the Sunday’s School program’s purpose materials to their classes once annually. (Asking someone to teach something is often the best way to ensure that the teacher understands the content themselves.)

What To Do Now: Often, with control freaks – particularly those in volunteer positions – it’s better to take a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. For instance, you might capitalize on Terry’s skills by asking her to teach a monthly class for prospective teachers on effective class leadership. You may even invite potential leaders from Terry’s class to participate. You also might invite Terry to “plant” a new class by mentoring the new leaders of the new class for the first few weeks.  Those ideas allow her to stay within her comfort zone while at the same time helping you meet your goals for class and leader development.

One question I often get with control freaks regards when it’s time to cut them loose. What if Terry simply won’t do anything else other than teach her class her way? In my experience, it’s worth moving her out of the program if her behavior is becoming an obstacle to progress, if only because she doesn’t seem surrendered to the Lord or to pastoral authority. Years ago, one of the toughest things I ever did was “break-up” a  class with a similar problem that had become counter-productive. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, yet it was the right decision for the long-term health of our people and the program.

Scenario #3 - Missing Person


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.

Proactive Element: If you don’t already have a list of expectations – to include regular meeting attendance – that you distribute and go over with potential Board members, start there. You should use a one-sheet in which you list critical expectations of Board members, to which they attest when they agree to become members. Resist the temptation to allow any important expectation or requirement to remain implied. You should also be sure to track meeting attendance. Following each meeting, send two different emails: First, send a “thanks for being there” email to all who attended and confirm decisions made. Then, send a “we missed you” email to each member who missed the meeting so they know that there’s no such thing as an “unseen” absence. Cover more details of the meeting in the latter email and ask the person to let you know whether they will have to miss the next meeting as well.

What To Do Now:  With Clark, do what you can to protect the relationship. A heavy hand is not usually the right approach in these types of situations. In similar cases, I have usually done two things: First, I was compassionate and honest. Essentially, “I just want you to know that you’re really important to me and I love it when I open a meeting and see you sitting there. It means a lot.” Second, give Clark a role at meetings. Ask him to give a devotion or lead a prayer. Give him a friendly call the day before the meeting to ask him what he’ll be talking about so you can introduce it properly. Normally, someone like Clark will get the idea.

Series Links:

Part 1: An introduction and the most common mistake. If you’re able to change this one common errant tendency, you’ll go a long way toward decreasing the frequency of the tough conversations and increasing their product ivies.

Part 2: Planning the conversation. These coaching sessions can explode in your face if you try to ad-lib them.

Part 3: Asking the best questions and investing time in actually listening. Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.

Part 4: Understanding the stories that contribute to the situation and using them to guide behavior.

Part 5: The wonderful power of proactivity to solve many of these tough problems before they even occur.