“How do you know if someone is ready for coaching?” my client Darcy1 would ask. For her, coaching got to the heart of the matter quickly and helped her transform her leadership. She desperately wanted her senior leader colleagues to embark on their own leadership journey but felt most of them were not ready. From what I experienced at her company, I believed she was right.
Until now, I have been using my experience and intuition to determine coaching readiness. This didn’t fully satisfy Darcy. And it didn’t sit well with me, either.
While most times I have been right about a leader’s coachability, even recently I was wrong.
This CEO I am thinking about showed up to our initial conversation complaining about his overwhelm and wanting help. I wanted to help!! He said he was willing to do The Leadership Circle™ 360 Profile to get feedback from his team. In reality, he had a zillion reasons why he wasn’t ready to start it. And sadly, his relationship to overwhelm didn’t change one iota through the course of 3-4 coaching sessions.
What became clear to me is that this leader wasn’t ready to face certain things in his private life even though they were wreaking havoc in his business life. It started to feel cruel to push for change. And frankly, it was getting exhausting for me. (After some overthinking on my part) I suggested we stop the coaching at the midway point. We ended amicably and I think he felt relieved. I know I did.
Looking back, I can see I ignored a red flag in our initial meeting. My ego wanted to win the work and help (maybe rescue) this leader (More red flags in this quick HBR article). As the coaching unfolded, I chose not to ignore how the leader kept rebooking our meetings and his resistance/fear regarding getting 360 feedback.
Happily, for this CEO, for Darcy and for all of us who work in leadership development, there is a new model to assess coaching readiness: RIPEN. Authors Sacha Lindekens and Jeff Grady, unveil their model through a very readable business fable that has lots of coaching tips, too.2 This model would have served me well in deciding whether my CEO client was ready for coaching.
The RIPEN Model looks at five key areas to assess development readiness:
- REALIZATION: Does your leader recognize they need to change? Are they ready to take responsibility? (See 3 min video on 100% Responsibility). Or are they blaming others or circumstances?
- INCENTIVE: What do they really want and what counter-incentives might be keeping them stuck. Leaders really only change when they are ready to move toward a delicious vision or to get away from serious pain. And even then, they may (consciously or unconsciously) keep the status quo because it feels safer.
- PRESSURE: Presentation of a lifetime coming up? Relationships among team members starting to implode? Pressure can certainly prompt a focus on development.
- EXPECTATION: Does the leader believe they have what it takes to accomplish a goal? Does the coach believe they can? Both need some confidence that success is possible.
- NATURAL INCLINATION: Is the leader naturally curious to learn and grow (growth mindset) or dubious that they can change in a significant way (fixed mindset)?
Looking back, I would not have gotten past the first point with my CEO client. He recognized something needed to change. It just became clear over a few coaching sessions that it wasn’t going to be him. That said, I have rarely seen a client who could tick all the boxes right at the beginning of our coaching. I have seen the opposite happen, too. I worked with a very skeptical leader in a team program and he turned out to be one of the best “students” of the work. He’s even hired us to coach someone else on his team after he completed his own coaching.
The value in this framework for me is the reminder to talk through and make explicit how RIPE or not the leader is. Together, prospective coachees, coach (and sponsor) can enter into the relationship with eyes wide open to determine how to proceed.
Given a do-over with that CEO, I’d tune in more to my intuition and be brave.
Dear CEO, I hear you blaming your partner and staff for YOUR overwhelm. I hear you blaming yourself, too. Let’s talk about whether you are really ready to take 100 percent responsibility for your situation and what that would look like…
We might have come to a different conclusion about coaching. And it still might have taken a few coaching sessions to uncover what was really going on. We’re complex beings after all. And leadership development really is art and science.
If you think you’re really RIPE for an adventure in leadership development and you’re naturally curious to learn and grow, check out our new year-long Where It Changes! Conscious Leadership Forum. We have some spots left for this September. Reach out if you’d like to chat about joining us.