Can You Be Coached?

I was brought in by an organisation to work with a particular individual. This individual had been promoted, had a bigger responsibility, bigger team of people, and they were getting quite a number of complaints, not just from the team, but also from customers. So, the organisation brought me in because they thought he might need some coaching and they wanted me to do some work with him.

In response to this request, I said, well, the first step is always to have a meeting with the individual, to check if the person is coachable. Second, I need to check the level of chemistry, because coaching is personal. You need to be able to get along with the coach. You need to have a good level of trust with each other, because you need to have candid conversations. Therefore, I suggested a meeting with the individual, so we proceeded with the meeting.

During this meeting, I found that this individual, even though highly intelligent, highly competent, and very bright, just did not have the right attitude to be coached. What do I mean by that? I look at coaching as having two different aspects. Some coaching that you do is remedial, which means you’re trying to fix a problem, whereas, other coaching is more developmental. You’re trying to grow. This is similar to Carol Dweck’s work of ‘growth versus fixed mindset.’ I look at coaching in the same way. It’s really around ‘how do we develop?’ My focus tends to be far more developmental then remedial.

What I found in having a conversation with this individual was that we spent a lot of time talking not just about what he wanted to achieve out of this and the benefits of coaching, but more importantly, one of the challenges I found was that he seemed to be very stuck in his own ego. He was very stuck in his view of the world about him being right. He found it really difficult to actually be open to explore different areas of development. The mindset was not one of – how can I get better at this? How can I do this better? But rather, ‘I’m right, I’m good at it, what’s wrong with the people, and what’s wrong with the customers?’

It was very much a blame mentality, externally blaming others rather than being able to look at developing himself. In other words, what was coming up for me was, as I suggested to him, his ego was getting in the way of his learning. I recommended to him Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got Me Here Won’t Get You There. My assessment of the situation with him was that he just wasn’t ready to be coached, or perhaps, he was, but I wasn’t the right person to coach him.

My reflection point for you is firstly, as a leader, how coachable are you? In other words, are you coachable not just from external sources, but also, perhaps, from people up the line from you, or even from your team? Second point is, how coachable are members of your team? Coaching is a gift, but we need to have the right attitude to be coached. It’s not the answer to everything, but the whole ability of coaching, or the whole concept and process of coaching, is to help someone fix their own issues. The mindset of being able to be coached, or what I call coachability, is essential for success.

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