How to Choose the Right Candidates to Develop


Several years ago, I felt a lot of frustration in having to explain what I do for a living. In many parts of the world (including my own) when people asked “What do you do?”, my reply “I’m a coach” often elicited a question: “What team?”. I could easily answer that one (“I coach executives”). However, there were – and are – still a lot of misperceptions (at least in the circles I run in) and many were cultivated by yours truly.

When I first started coaching executives, many of my first clients were those who were “on the bubble” – coaching was their last shot at keeping their jobs because of some dysfunctional behaviors they had. Success at turning those behaviors around was spotty at best, because many of these clients were stuck in the past with what they believed were the wrongs that had been done to them.

Lamenting my concern about coaching these types to a friend who had been an executive in a large company resulted in some very wise advice. She thought the best way for me to do work that was more fulfilling would be to define the work I do as future-oriented. To many coaches, this may seem obvious, but at the time, it seriously changed how I describe coaching – and thus the type of clients I work with.

Stick with me here, because the lessons I learned are valuable for you if you who want to expend your energy helping the right employees to develop.

The not-quite-so obvious truth about developing others is that the best candidates for you to coach and develop will be future oriented. Employees who are sincerely earnest about what they can do for your organization will thrive with the kinds of developmental dialog focused on their future because that’s what inspires them. Talking about their past, except in terms of lessons learned isn’t nearly as energizing to them.

So in the end, those who need your help are those who are willing to step up and take responsibility for the future they can create, with your assistance to clarify where they are today and what they need to get to that future.

You can try to turn around poor performers. But if they are playing the blame game and stuck in all the awful things that have happened to them with an unwillingness to accept that they have a role in their future, stop trying. You will be much better off moving the worst offenders out, and spending your energy helping those who envision their role in their future.

How can you tell if one or more of your staff will take to your attempts to coach them?

You hear them say “I can”: They are go-getters. They want to improve and they humbly believe in their own potential.

You trust that “they will”: They have a proven track record of doing what they say they will. You know that when you give them stretch goals, they work hard to meet them.

You notice that “they have”: The people who deserve your investment in coaching them are achievers. They’ve taken responsibility for their success even when the odds are stacked against them.

Sometimes they say “I failed”: They don’t blame their disappointments on others. They know their role in failure, and they learn from it in order to begin planning for the future.

Listen carefully to identify those who deserve your time and effort in helping them to develop. These are your superstars of the future.




I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.