FOR a successful coaching relationship to happen, it is imperative that both the coach and the coachee work as partners.

Even if there is such a person as the best coach in the world (and there really isn’t), the coaching relationship will fail miserably if the coachee exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

He does not want to be coached

In the initial meeting with the coach, the coachee says: “I don’t know why my boss insists that I work with a coach. He is the one who needs the coach!”

Just as with training, if the trainee does not wish to be trained, there is no sense in sitting him in a classroom for eight hours, or more, and paying top dollar for the trainer. It is a sheer waste of time and resources.

Before a coaching engagement is confirmed, it is important to give both the coach and the potential coachee the opportunity to meet.

This serves two purposes.

First, it allows both parties a chance to ascertain if they have the right chemistry. As coaching conversation commonly delves into deep and personal issues, it is imperative that the coach and the coachee feel that mutual trust and respect can be established.

Secondly, it gives the coach the opportunity to size up the coachee to see if he honestly wants to be coached, and is not being coerced into it.

Unless a coach is a mind reader, he will not be able to tell with certainty how willing or not the coachee is. A meeting would at least give the coach the opportunity to ask the right questions to ascertain the potential coachee’s state of readiness.

He has a closed or partially closed mind

Coaching can only work if the coachee comes for coaching sessions with an open mind.

Some coachees I worked with only heard what they wanted to hear, and blocked out the rest.

The mind is like a parachute — it can only be effective if it is open.

If coachees come to sessions with pre-conceived notions and a less-than-fully-open mind, then coaching cannot be effective.

In a recent coaching assignment, the coachee — a chief financial officer — could not accept the fact that he was micro-managing his subordinates.

He argued and closed his mind to the outcome of the 360-degree feedback he had received — that  is, people working under him indeed felt that he was a micro-manager.

His defence was that he had to guide and check his subordinates’ work closely as the financial report to management could not afford to have a single mistake.

He was right, of course — on the zero tolerance level for mistakes. However, his approach undermined the professionalism and capabilities of his team, and led to the perception that he did not trust anyone other than himself. 

The end-result was that his finance division experienced the highest staff turnover rate ever in the entire organisation.

He has misplaced priorities

Coachees are usually already successful leaders, holding top or senior-level positions in an organisation.

Many of the coachees I work with travel extensively and have an overflowing plate of responsibilities.

What can really be frustrating to a coach is when scheduled coaching sessions have to be re-scheduled as some important business needs arise and have to be taken care of.

Putting things in perspective, yes, there will always be an urgent business need — an upset client, a delivery that did not happen when it should, and so on.

But most times, it is a case where the coachees are called away by the boss, or have to attend yet another meeting.

Coachees have to be clear about their objective — coaching is about helping them to become even more effective leaders so that they can be more effective in their job. 

What some coaches do to get around this issue — which can be pretty disruptive to their own work schedule — is to include in the coaching engagement agreement a clause that states that cancelling coaching sessions with less than 48 hours’ notice will not be acceptable. And the time that has been booked will be deemed as having been used up.

4 He is insincere or dishonest

In the two cases I have come across, a promotion was the carrot for the coaching engagement.

Both coachees were dishonest and insincere about their motives for entering into the coaching engagement proposed by their respective bosses.

It was a situation of “…if you tweak your behaviour, you will be promoted”.

So, as it turned out, both coachees pretended and played along with the coaching.

When the coaching journey concluded, everyone was happy — the coachees exhibited the desired leadership behaviours, and received their promotions.

Unfortunately, soon after, both coachees reverted to their previous style of “management by fear”.

Eventually, their organisations found their behaviour too destructive and both were outplaced. They learnt a hard lesson too late.

Article by Paul Heng, founder/managing director and executive coach of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, visit