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Leaders know that some issues are more difficult to talk about with employees than others. Coaching an employee to be punctual is much easier than helping them create more positive attitudes towards the culture and race of your employees overseas.

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As we have implemented coaching programs around the world, we developed a list of the 10 Most Common Coaching Issues and ranked them from hardest to easiest to approach. The difficulty of the situation is based on the potential defensiveness or resistance that an individual may have regarding the issue. We group these 10 issues into four areas that we call “Domains of Leadership Effectiveness.” These include a person’s Expertise, Performance, Interpersonal Skills, and Disposition. This provides us a framework for addressing each issue with a specific approach.

top 10 coaching issues

Expertise (least difficult)

Coaching situations involving a person’s knowledge, capabilities, and job skills (items 7-10) are the easiest to address and resolve. Corrective action is used for policy or legal violations while coaching on job skills and knowledge focuses on identifying opportunities to learn and then following up to make sure progress is being made. Because issues in the expertise domains are clearly defined and formalized (i.e. Policies and Procedures), there is less chance of a defensive reaction on the part of the employee.


We put item 6 in a group by itself since there can be many reasons why a person is not performing to expectations. The approach here is to clearly identify the problem, set specific goals, and to provide accountability and follow-up. Sometimes the performance problem is tied to one of the other domains and those issues need to be addressed first before creating goals. Leaders that coach on issues within the performance domain go beyond simply creating awareness of a problem and approach the conversation with “What can I do to help you improve.”

Interpersonal Skills

Relationship Issues and Personal Appearance (4 & 5) fall into this category. We use a 360-degree feedback survey to create self-awareness and greater understanding about the person’s impact on others. The approach is to find small behavior changes that can be leveraged to create big differences in the way the leader relates with co-workers.

Disposition (most difficult)

Values/Beliefs, Personal Characteristics, and Attitude (1-3) are the most difficult areas to help a person change. These things form the foundation of an individual’s personality and are developed since childhood. This is where you might find prejudice or bias in a leader’s beliefs, values that don’t match those of the organization, or a grumpy attitude that is bringing down the team. The approach here is to help the individual decide if there is a need to change and why it would benefit them personally. Sometimes a leader has to decide if they are a good fit with their current job or organization. Given the personal nature of the issues within the disposition domain of coaching, there is greater potential of defensiveness and resistance.

Do you agree with our list? Would you re-arrange any items or add some others? Do you have any other approaches that you use to address each situation?

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Charles Rogel
Charles Rogel

Charles is the Vice President of Products and Marketing at DecisionWise. He has an extensive background in international sales and consulting. Prior to DecisionWise, he worked for over 10 years in Sales and Marketing roles at various software companies, including Modus Media International, Parlant Technology, and Plato learning. View Bio

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3 comments — View
  • These rankings correspond with two factors: 1) The degree to which performance standards are black and white, and 2) The level of subjectivity required by a other people (the coach, manager, etc.) to interpret degree of performance.

    Policy and legal violation is fairly clearly spelled out. It’s black and white. The policies are quite clear, are generally on paper, and are fairly well-known or straight forward. When a violation is made, coaching falls on getting that person to fall back within the clearly outlined specific standards written in the policy. On the other hand, coaching someone on their beliefs or values, even when these may not directly match those of the organization, is not something that is typically black and white.

    This goes hand-in-hand with degree of subjectivity. There is very little subjectivity required on the part of the coach when it comes to legal or policy violation. Again, because it’s pretty black and white, there isn’t much interpretation involved, and the participant clearly knows he/she is out of order. The coaching is also black and white here, and involves mainly a visible behavioral change– not a change in belief or value. On the other extreme, changing a belief or value is largely subjective, and leaves the coach to prove or convince the coachee that the coach’s (or organization’s) values are correct, and that the coachee’s are not. It’s a tough sale, and not an easy (or even appropriate) coaching scenario in most cases.

  • I think the rank of issues is pretty much bang on. My observation would be that many of these are interconnected.

    Values may be difficult to change – but if we allow time for reflection they can be clarified by referring to principles and then practices.

    Everyone has their own preferred technique. I find using this Leadership Wheel helps immensely:

    What do you think?

  • the order of the leadership Issues described here are perfe.ctly choosen and described

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