Doug Fleener's

The Day Makes the Year


Lessons From the Worst Coaching Job I Ever Did

Feb 27, 2024

As a newer manager, I was running a store where one of my employees was underperforming. I put him on a performance plan, and he would be let go if he didn’t improve within sixty days.

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. I remember the day I let him go. I share it often in my programs. He took it hard. He didn’t have a car, so he had to call his wife to come pick him up. He met her right outside the store when she arrived, along with their three children.

I could see him tell his wife what happened. You could see she was shocked and upset. Which also upset the kids. It was a terrible thing to witness.

I told myself he had every chance to improve. He failed.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I kept reliving him telling his family over and over.

Finally, it hit me. Yea, the employee had failed. But worse, I failed him. I failed him with the worst coaching job I had ever done.

I vowed never to let that happen again. But I had first to figure out what I could do differently in the future.

These things became foundational for my coaching all employees, not just someone underperforming. Lessons that you can also apply to be a high-impact coach.

 1. We need the employee to see what positive outcomes await their growth and effort. With the person I let go, I only focused on the consequences. Seeing him with his family reminded me how I should have focused on how his personal and professional growth would have benefited him and his family.

2. Focus far more on the how than the what. I’m sure I told the terminated employee multiple times what he had to do not to be let go. But I didn’t spend enough time working with him on the how. This is also something that most coaches don’t do with top performers.

3. Coach people through their belief barriers. Almost all of us have belief barriers. Most of us aren’t aware of them. I believe the terminated employee could have easily achieved the needed results. Was he lazy? Did he not care? Or did he have some limited belief that he needed to be coached through? You don’t know until you try.

4. Hold people accountable for the expected behaviors and actions. I’m positive that if I had ensured the terminated employee was doing what was expected, he would have achieved the desired results. Instead, I just kept reviewing the outcome path he was on. I should have worked with him daily to do what he needed to do to succeed.

5. Be all in when coaching people. After that fateful day, I promised that if I ever had to terminate an employee, I could look their family in the eye and say, “I did everything I could for the employee to succeed.” The same holds true for every person we coach. Be all in to help every person grow and continue to be better every day.

So, let me ask three questions:

  1. If a coach tells you to visualize success, is imagining your upcoming day off considered a valid goal? (Hey, some days are just like that!)
  2. When coaching someone on their employee journey, did you ever want to call them an Uber instead?
  3. What are one or two things you can do as a coach to make an even higher impact on your staff?