Coaching for the Un-coachable: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Marimba! Marimba! MARIIIIIMBAAAAAAAA!  My phone kept ringing wildly as I approached the movie theater this past Thanksgiving.  As many of you have guessed by now, I love the movies and I was on my way to see Horrible Bosses 2 (horrendous, I know) when I was taken down a different road by my cousin back in Miami.  I answered and he uttered, “You won’t believe the story I have for you. This is absolute MADNESS!” 

Before I could get him to take a breath, he said, “It’s a holiday and our plans for the day have been ruined by my wife’s boss who turned up completely unannounced to go over financials for the Board meeting.  We were going to have a family day with our kids and now he is here and won’t leave.   The best part is Maria won’t ask him to leave.  He is screwing with our lives.  I can’t believe this %$^!” 

Naturally, I was completely derailed in my attempt to see a movie despite the fact that I had already found my seat, ordered a large Coke Zero, and poured my peanut M&M’s into a mega-sized tub of buttered popcorn (#moreexerciseneeded).  I cursed the movie gods and put the popcorn and soda aside.  I stepped out and proceeded to dive in.  I had to be a good friend and figure out what was going. 

After a few hours of conversation and one fake emergency phone call later, Maria’s boss was gone and Ramon was spending the night at his dad’s place because he needed some time to cool off.  Over the course of the evening, I had the opportunity to delve deeper.  Maria’s boss is a micromanager of the worst kind.  He does not believe in letting people produce work.  He refuses to accept that his team can generate quality work without his looking over their collective shoulders.  But this is an illness for him.  He will interrupt any part of life to ensure work is being done. 

He once interrupted a baptism to check on the status of the godmother’s revenue reports.  He is so obsessed with micromanagement that he insists on using a hall pass system for breaks to ensure high-performing accountants are at their desks.  He is so far gone on the scale of micromanagement that no reasonable job candidate would ever join the team.  Yes, he is succeeding at driving away top talent.   Ramon was right.  This was absolute madness.

The funny thing is Ramon and Maria asked me for my advice.  My initial reaction was talk to your boss.  He is creating disengagement.  He is crossing so many lines that you’d have to wonder if he was boundary blind.  But as I explored the topic even further I realized this was not going to work if Maria had to have the conversation.  She needed a coach.  She needed someone who could teach her how to advocate.  She needed someone who would take the reins and lower the boom on her boss.  The right answer was HR.  She needed HR to do the good, the bad, and the ugly of coaching to ensure both employees had this issue resolved in an effective manner.  I turned to my trusted HR advisors (a collection of senior HR professionals from around the globe) and asked them for their thoughts.  Their responses could be culled into the following themes:

1)      The Good—this is a growth opportunity for everyone involved.  The HR professional will learn how to handle a difficult situation if they don’t already know how.  Maria and her boss will need coaching on how to communicate and, more importantly, how to listen.  The key is ensuring all parties involved recognize resolution is needed.

2)      The Bad—this is going to result in at least one party leaving the organization.  The HR professional will coach both parties and offer guidance about person-job fit.  Most likely, Maria will choose to leave because her boss is too entrenched within the organization and her boss will have to start over.  The key is ensuring lessons are learned and the best decision for Maria’s employment is made.

3)      The Ugly—this cannot be reconciled without termination of Maria’s boss.  The HR professional will coach both parties but, ultimately, Maria’s boss will not change.  The only way forward is to terminate Maria’s boss which will only get ugly for Maria because she will be recognized as the person who complained about the behavior.  Maria’s boss will never achieve tangible growth because the opportunity to grow was taken away.  The key is ensuring that Maria takes coaching about how this can affect her within the organization and Maria’s boss takes coaching to a future employer.

Each of these themes highlights a perspective built upon coaching.  For each theme Maria was asked to grow and her boss was expected to grow.  The funny thing is this situation demonstrates two key competencies exhibited by HR professionals every day—creativity in consultation and courage in navigating the organization.  I just don’t know how any HR professional could function effectively without proficiency in these competencies. 

Whether you are driven toward the good, the bad, or the ugly, you have to pour your creativity into coaching and your courage into handling the tough situation.  That’s what makes HR the frontline for coaching the un-coachable.  Coach’em up and take no prisoners!

Have you ever had this type of situation?  How did you handle it?  How would you handle this if it happened to you?  How would you flex your creatively courageous competency-based muscles?


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