Not too long ago, a client asked a challenging question:

We have some professionals we want to coach, but they refuse to engage. They’re lone wolves. How do we get them to participate in our mentoring process?

OK, first the obvious. I’ve written in a previous post about steps we can take to get people interested in working with us. It’s all about trust, credibility, and empathy. But sometimes, we do all of those things and our colleague still looks at us with all of the enthusiasm of an animal at a zoo. What now?

First, ask yourself whether you really want to knock yourself out trying to help someone who – for good reasons or bad – just isn’t really into it. You’re busy enough already. You probably don’t need to chase this person for kicks. Remember, people are ready for help on their own schedule. They may or may not ever come around. Free yourself to move on. Many people in your world do want and need your help. And any consultant knows that a willing client beats a reluctant one every day of the week.

Second, stay present with your lone-wolf colleague. His attitude – affected by circumstances just like you – may just change. Stay available to him without pushing yourself down his throat. This is easier said than done. I know that I can get just a little indignant when a client turns me down. “We’ll see how much I help them when he needs me next time. Two can play this rejection game.” Understandable, common, but not very helpful. Instead, just tell yourself it’s not his time yet and that you’ll help as best you can if circumstances change.

Third, move on. Go find someone else to start with and get going. Often, the lone wolves have to see the rest of the world passing them by before they decide to get involved.

Of course, if you’re a firm leader, you can do a little more with the lone wolves. You can turn up the intensity of feedback mechanisms to help them become aware of their need for help. I’m not talking about making stuff up here – just shining a light on any growth areas these people may have and rewarding others who address those growth areas. You don’t have to punish lone wolves – just starve them of the positive consequences of participation.

What other ideas do you have?