Every organisation has to have leaders and followers. However, maybe we’re wrong in assuming that followers are the people who passively defer to authority and, where necessary, take coaching. Recent research from PsychTests has cast serious doubt on this assumption: individuals identified as followers were markedly less open to coaching and novelty than those who identified either as leaders or adapters.

PsychTests’ President, Dr Ilona Jerabek, explained that followers tended to have a self-confidence issue, which led them toward interpreting coaching as a form of reproach: “When you offer coaching or training to followers, they may take it as an indication that something is wrong and that’s why they need help.”

This contrasts sharply with people who identified as adapters, who overwhelmingly tended to see coaching as a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. In today’s business culture, that’s a sign of flexibility. Jerabek states: “What you want is people who are capable of adapting to or growing into different roles, people who want to work on their skills and improve their performance.”

What are we to do with the coaching-resistant followers in our midst? The immediate thing for managers to understand is that they need more preliminary support for the idea of coaching than their adapter counterparts. That means reassuring them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that all of us can learn from them. Coaching isn’t a criticism. It’s a declaration of how much they’re valued by the company, how much potential you see in them. It’s an investment in their development, not a reproach for shortcomings.

However, it’s also wise to hire adapters whenever you can. How? Ask at interview for examples demonstrating their willingness to receive criticism (watch for non-verbal cues – a positive verbal statement accompanied with white-knuckled hand-wringing might be a sign that you’ve just been given what you want to hear rather than the truth).

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