But are YOU coachable?

When talking about how to make real change on any given team, I often hear leaders lament, “But so-and-so just isn’t coachable!”

It's frustrating to encounter resistance while trying to improve things. But I fear that we spend too much time identifying the ways that others aren’t coachable, and not nearly enough time creating the conditions for “coach-ability.”

So first, let’s talk about what it means to be coachable. Being coachable is generally about being open to and capable of change. One of the most powerful ways to create the conditions for coachability is for the leader to model the way.

Instead of fretting about whether your team member is coachable, start by asking yourself a few key questions to assess just how coachable YOU are. For example:

  • Are you a learner? Do you enjoy learning new things and growing? Do you share your learning journey with your team?
  • Are you generally open to feedback? And are you willing to seek feedback from your team?
  • Are you aware of how your performance compares to expectations? (Consider the technical aspects of your role, and ALSO your role as a leader. How are you stacking up?)
  • Do you tend to enjoy or resist change in general?
  • Do you make a point of doing what you say you will do and following through on your promises?

If the answer to most of these questions is YES, then you are probably pretty coachable yourself, and you are probably setting a good example for your team.

However, answering only these questions can be misleading when assessing the coachability of others because we need to understand the context (or climate) in which the allegedly uncoachable person is operating. Whether or not a person is coachable will be strongly determined by the level of trust and psychological safety in the relationship.

If you are the leader, and your person isn't showing up as very coachable, look in the mirror and ask yourself these additional questions:

  • Is the purpose of the work clear? Have I emphasized the WHY behind the work?
  • Does the employee understand the impact on the end user? What can I do to help the person see the IMPACT they will make if they change?
  • Have I clearly communicated my expectations for their performance? (Really think about this one... what is clear to you may not be so clear to them.)
  • Are the standards fair? Achievable?
  • Am I reactive when things don't go smoothly? (This can make it unsafe for others to make mistakes.)
  • Is feedback normal in our environment? Is feedback given with a spirit of helpfulness?
  • Do we set goals together?  Do we work toward goals as a team?
  • Do I give meaningful 1:1s a priority position on my calendar?
  • Do I offer opportunities for learning, training, mentoring and growth? (Or do I save this for when there is a problem to be fixed?)
  • And (most importantly), what have I done to establish and maintain strong trust on my team?

This set of questions—when answered honestly—should give you a sense of the climate you are creating as the leader. While it's true that many of the things that make a person “coachable” are linked to that person’s mindset, we leaders must create a climate that invites risk-taking, learning and growth. 

Here is what you can do right away:

  • Demonstrate that YOU are a learner. Talk about things you are experimenting with, mistakes you've made, and things you're learning now.
  • ASK for feedback. Say, "Can you tell me a few things I can do to make your job more enjoyable and easier?"
  • Talk about the purpose, meaning and impact of the work. Help people understand the WHY behind the work. 
  • Make learning and growth NORMAL by building feedback loops into every project. This helps people understand that feedback is about the work and not about their worthiness.
  • Set goals, and then follow-up with regular team and 1:1 meetings to assess and support progress. Focus on removing barriers.
  • Recognize and celebrate the small wins all along the way!

Making these small changes can turn the tide and create the conditions for real coachability on your team!

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