When I think about the people I most admire, I realize that many of
them model coachability in ways that make them seem wise. That's an
interesting concept, isn't it? That being coachable (a learner)
might make us seem wise (someone who knows). It is not the
acquisition of knowledge, facts, or experience that distinguishes
us, but our unending quest for learning and our openness to
If you want to be the best possible coach, you need to be highly
coachable. Many moons ago, I set out to do a master's thesis on
coachability. My premise was that coachability was a larger lever
to pull than coaching skills. In other words, if you could only do
one thing - help people be better coaches or help people be more
coachable - an organization would get a better return-on-effort and
resources by providing training on and reinforcing coachability. As
it is with most thesis papers, I needed to find and cite many
references that either supported or refuted my hypothesis. I ended
up abandoning the idea. Why? Not because my hypothesis proved false
- on the contrary, I believe it more today than ever. I had to
abandon the idea for the thesis because I could not find one
resource that addressed coachability. This was extraordinary! I
could find thousands of books with tips on how to be a great coach
and not one that told me how to be coachable.
I started writing about coachability more than 10 years ago, and I
try to address some aspect of it in every book I write. I believe
it is that powerful! Practicing coachability has changed my life
and opened up many opportunities. If you want to be a great coach
(manager, parent, friend, innovator, and the like), you need to be
highly coachable. Being coachable will improve every aspect of your
work and life.
What do I mean by coachability? Coachability is the degree to which
we are open to what the environment can offer or the extent to
which we accept and consider input and ideas. Our successes depend
on whether we are highly coachable when it counts most.
Coachability is a way of behaving, not a characteristic - there are
no coachable or uncoachable people, just moments when a person is
either coachable or uncoachable. Although everyone is coachable
some of the time and uncoachable at other times, the most effective
professionals will be more coachable overall and, most important,
at the times when they need to learn from others.
I also want to address what coachability and uncoachability feel
like, because this is a powerful distinction. Imagine that you are
being uncoachable. You have put up an imaginary barrier between you
and the person who is trying to help you. You feel this invisible
wall; it is crushing your spirit. It feels stressful; your brow
wrinkles and your stomach tightens. You are sending bad chemicals
surging through your veins as the stress response kicks into high
gear. Being uncoachable does not feel good.
Being coachable, on the other hand, can feel great. You feel a
sense of confidence, even when the topic of discussion is critical.
You are relaxed and feel a professional affection for the other
person; after all, she is giving you the gift of her time and
feedback. And when the feedback is really helpful, you feel a rush
of excitement and enthusiasm. Aha and eureka moments come when you
are coachable. Coachability feels great.
Start to tune your senses for coachability. Begin noticing what
coachability and uncoachability look like in other people and in
your own behavior. Observe how you react to others and how they
react to you. What barriers are you erecting, and how does it feel
when you are being uncoachable? Why have you placed the barrier
there? Notice how personality, time of day, and topic affect your
coachability. In meetings, observe what the meeting leader does
that helps or hinders the coachability of the attendees.
When we are coachable, there is an open, curious, and relaxed
quality to our demeanor. Being coachable goes hand-in-hand with
confidence and an ownership of results. Coachable coaches display a
sense of calm and a focus that allows them to better help
performers without feeling the need to defend or rationalize their
ideas or past actions.
The bad news is that many people spend more time being uncoachable
than coachable. The good news is that coachability is a state of
mind that can be changed in an instant - yes, an instant. Like this
- pow! How? Pardon my bluntness, but we need to get over ourselves,
drop the judgment, and hold ourselves to a higher standard as a
performer. See and feel the wall you are putting up between you and
others, call it a wall, and then blast the wall away by choosing to
hear the help being offered as a wonderful gift. It might be a
painful gift, but any time someone takes the time and energy to
help you, it is something to be open to and thankful for. And don't
worry about the perfection - or imperfection - of their delivery.
People have told me that they don't like advice that sounds a
particular way. Remember, we all have different filters, and so our
ways of trying to help will differ. Don't let the tone of someone's
voice get in the way. We can and should learn to spot situations
that, and people who, trigger our uncoachability or conversely
improve our responses and enhance learning.
Learning is like breathing. When we stop, we can no longer be
effective, and we become irrelevant in the workplace.
Note: This article is excerpted from Coaching Up and Down the Generations by Lisa Haneberg.
Lisa Haneberg is vice president and organizational development
practice leader for MPI Consulting and has taught and coached
hundreds of managers during the past 25 years. As a manager,
management trainer, and coach for companies both large and small,
she has held leadership positions focused on manager development
and effectiveness. Her expertise includes one-to-one management
coaching, management course facilitation, organization development,
and business writing. She is a certified master trainer and
behavioral assessment interpreter; lisahaneberg.com.
2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.