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Compliant is not equal to Coachable: Employees who are obedient followers can actually be difficult to coach

Posted by Deb Muoio

Feb 12, 2015 10:02:00 AM

It’s not uncommon to find some high-powered executives who don’t take criticism very easily, or who scoff atcoaching the idea of needing a professional coach. But what if an assistant or someone lower on the company hierarchy had the same attitude? How would you react if you had an assistant who follows your direct orders “to a T,” but who ignores your suggestions for improvement, doesn’t challenge your criticism but never acts on it, and who is immune to training and coaching?

Intuitively, it sounds like an oxymoron, but this pattern is more common than one would think, according to our latest research. Employees who indicate that they are more comfortable following than leading are actually the least amenable to coaching, compared to people in leadership positions, and those who are comfortable both leading and following.

Here are the results of the data we collected for our Coaching & Trainability Attitude Assessment (CTAA) (Note: Scores range from 0 to 100; a high score is considered ideal, with the exception of the Know-it-all-ism scale):

Overall level of coachability

  • Average score for leaders: 72
  • Average score for followers: 70
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 77

Ability to handle criticism

  • Average score for leaders: 71
  • Average score for followers: 68
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 76

Openness to learning and improvement

  • Average score for leaders: 82
  • Average score for followers: 78
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 85

Willingness to take direction

  • Average score for leaders: 65
  • Average score for followers: 75
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 74

Willingness to ask for help

  • Average score for leaders: 69
  • Average score for followers: 65
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 74

Comfort with vulnerability and admitting weakness

  • Average score for leaders: 66
  • Average score for followers: 61
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 71

Know-it-all-ism

  • Average score for leaders: 33
  • Average score for followers: 27
  • Average score for those who are comfortable as a leader and follower: 24

It’s unlikely that most assistants or subordinates would openly defy criticism or downright refuse to be coached, but there may be a strong desire to do so. They may accept a manager’s criticism, or take courses/training if asked, but many of them do so grudgingly and with a total lack of interest in learning. Of course, with that kind of attitude, any investment into training or coaching is a waste of time and money.

On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that training and coaching have an amazing return on investment. That, however, applies to the right training for a receptive audience, people who will apply the suggestions and actively try to implement new insights into their work, behavior, and communication style.

So what can we take away from this study? You need to hire the right people from the very beginning. Hiring employees who are able to be a leader and follower will prove to be to your (and their) advantage: They have the best of both worlds, and most importantly, are open to learning, to improvement, to direction, and to feedback. Companies need employees with this degree of versatility.

If you’re interested in using CTAA (Coaching & Trainability Attitude Assessment) or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial of ARCH Profile.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

Ready for a test drive of ARCH Profile, the delivery system for PsychTests’ assessments? All you need to do is ask!

Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: HR Tips, Employee Attitude, Mentoring, HR Trends, Employee Development, Motivation, Coaching, Employee Relations, Training

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