“Are you coachable” is the wrong question. What’s the right one?
By Pete Hall

I was speaking at a leadership conference recently, and after my session I had the opportunity to sit down with a handful of executives and team leaders to chat. The topic? Coachability.

After the first animated 15 minutes or so, two realities struck us:

First, we needed to clearly define the term itself.

Second, we determined that for years, we’ve been asking the wrong question about coachability.

What is coachability? Here’s the definition we constructed right there in the conference center’s foyer: “Coachability is the willingness – even eagerness – to invite and accept support, feedback, guidance, prompts, and imperatives in order to grow, learn new things, increase your impact, and/or in some way improve in whatever you’re doing.”

This helped us to understand the desirable approach to growth that we – as leaders and learners – and our team members need to possess and display in order to work effectively with (or as) coaches.

*Side note: In a different blog, we’ll dig deeper into the ins and outs of our definition of coachability and its many nuanced applications.

Meanwhile…What’s the question we’d been getting wrong all these years? This one: “Are you coachable?”

It seems like a reasonable enough question, so why is it the wrong one? Because the answer is binary. It’s either “yes” or “no.”

As it turns out, there are many gradients of coachability. It’s not as clear-cut as it may sound. Describing an employee as coachable or uncoachable misses the mark, because one’s willingness – even eagerness – to partner with a coach can depend on a host of variables.

There are many gradients of coachability. One’s willingness – even eagerness – to partner with a coach can depend on a host of variables.

Not surprisingly, the variables can be addressed rather directly, by asking the 5 W’s and an H questions.

So, “How coachable are you?” is a better question, and to help determine likelihood of success in a coaching interaction for any given individual, we follow up by asking, “Would it matter…”

*…WHO is coaching you? Does it matter if your coach comes from within or outside your organization? Is an unknown, expert voice better for you than someone you may have worked with before? Do you do better with a coach with whom you’ve got a strong relationship established?

*…WHAT you’re being coached on? What’s the content of the coaching? Is it something you’re already expected to know and do, or is it a new skill? Are you being coached on a mindset, an attitude, a behavior, or a particular strategy? And do you have some say in the content, or is it determined by someone else (perhaps a supervisor)?

*…WHERE the coaching takes place? Do the coaching interactions occur in your workspace or setting, or are you called to someone’s office for them? Are the coaching sessions conducted in private, 1-on-1, or do some of them transpire in a team setting, in front of (or even including) others?

*…WHEN you’re being coached? Are you coached in advance of a specific event, after its conclusion, or some combination thereof? Are the coaching session scheduled in advance, or are they impromptu? This also includes frequency: are coaching interactions occurring daily, weekly, or quarterly? Do you only receive coaching support during (or following) your annual performance review?

*…WHY you’re being coached? What’s the purpose of the coaching? Your own growth? Fidelity to a company program? The acquisition of technical skills? Remediation of your weaknesses? Leadership development? The main purpose, and ultimate goal, really ought to be clear (and clearly communicated) in order to maximize our impact.

*…HOW the coaching transpires? What do the coaching sessions look like, feel like, and include? Are they one-directional, laden with targeted feedback, or are they conversational, a back-and-forth dialogue, full of reflective discussions? Do they include modeling, use of video, action research, or other strategies? Some may work better for you that others, and some may accomplish the ultimate goal better than others.

There are no right answers to these questions, only our individual and collective truth. As we ask, investigate, and explore our responses, we’re looking for are answers that lead to results. The outcomes are what matter.

What is included in the set of conditions that take you (and/or your team members) to greater heights? How can we put ourselves in positions to learn more, accomplish more, do better, and have a more profound impact?

Start by asking the right questions.

Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at Pete@StriveSS.com.

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