Are you coachable

Are you coachable?

When it comes to coaching, it’s important to remember:

  • Not everyone wants to be coached
  • Not everyone needs to be coached
  • Many have no control over who they coach and who coaches them

As a people manager, there is often an expectation that you coach and mentor members of your team. However, being someone’s boss always doesn’t provide a sufficient foundation for successful coaching. There are other factors at play that more determine the outcome. So setting yourself up for success can make the difference between a positive outcome and failure.

As a coach with over 30 years of experience, I have many success stories, but I also have had some notable challenges.  Here’s an account of one such challenge and some practical tips for you to apply ahead of your future coaching assignments.

As part of a large change initiative I was coaching a senior executive in a global service organization and it was not going well because the executive was not behaving in a coachable way.

Even though he said he needed and wanted coaching he wasn’t behaving accordingly. He hired me and paid good money for me to coach and guide him. But, he just wasn’t listening openly, considering and examining what I was proposing.

Every time I suggested that something was not working with the way he was leading or managing he immediately justified himself. Pretty much every time he didn’t like or agree with what I was saying he became defensive and argumentative. In fact, our conversations often ended by him saying: “well that’s just YOUR opinion!”

Even though he insisted that he trusted me and he kept asking me to continue, it was quite evident that he had a very hard time surrendering to my coaching and he did not empower me as his coach.

The challenges were even greater!

This executive was the leader of a significant change initiative that required everyone to think and approach things differently. He himself had to change his leadership style in some fundamental ways in order for the change effort to work. However, because he was un-coachable he also wasn’t willing to reinvent himself and that was hurting his organization and his own brand.

In addition, his lack of being open to coaching was undermining his own ability to mentor, coach and develop others. And, because he wasn’t willing to expose himself to new ideas, gaps and ways of doing things he couldn’t enroll and demand of his people to do the same.

The worst was that because he had a reputation of being highly opinionated, self-righteous and not open to criticism and feedback people around him avoided pushing back, giving him feedback, bringing bad news and telling him how they really felt. You can imagine the inauthentic, ineffective and compromised environment that that dynamic created.

How many times have you tried to coach someone and found him or her to be un-coachable?

What did you do in that situation? Did you stop the coaching? Or did you simply ignore all the signs, continued to plow along and settled for your coaching not making a difference?

My recommendation is: Never compromise! Only coach people who are coachable.

If you sell out on this principle, your coaching attempts will fail, you won’t make a difference, the effort will frustrate you and drain your energy and your reputation may be hurt because people may think “you failed to get the job done.”

So, how do you determine if someone is ready for coaching?

Here is a simple checklist to guide you to coaching success:

1 – Do they have a big enough challenge, opportunity or commitment, for which they need coaching?

Make sure they have a reason for needing coaching. Don’t coach someone who doesn’t have something important enough at stake 

2 – Do they genuinely want coaching?

Never coach someone who just wants to “check it out,” or someone who says, “my boss told me to get coaching.” Make sure the person you are coaching genuinely owns their need and desire to be coached.

3 – Do they choose you as their coach?

It’s ok if they want coaching but for whatever reasons they prefer someone else to coach them.

4 – Do you choose them as someone to coach?

The fact that they want you as a coach doesn’t guarantee that you want to take them on.

5 – Are the ground rules clear?

Create clear ground rules around the logistics of the coaching engagement, as well as the behavioral aspects.

In my example the senior executive clearly needed coaching. However, in spite of saying that they wanted coaching and wanted me as their coach, they didn’t act that way.   Just by being honest about these two principles I could clearly see that we simply didn’t have the condition to succeed.

I ended up firing the executive from our coaching engagement. In doing so I used the principles of the checklist to convey, without any frustration or emotion, why I no longer was willing to coach him. That move probably made a bigger difference than all my attempts to coach him combined.

So that you don’t have to learn the hard way, take advantage of my experience.

Before you begin coaching a new client, employee or peer, carefully work through the checklist above.  This will help ensure that you fully understand the person you are considering coaching and can determine whether they are coachable from the outset.


Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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