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How coachable are you?

5 questions to help you find out

5 questions to help you find out

By Roderic Yapp, Leadership Consultant, in conversation with Richard Wilmot, Head of Coaching, SH Leadership

Being coachable is important if we want to develop because the ability to gain insight and act on it is a key characteristic of high-performing teams. 

Having discussed this topic recently with my colleague Richard, we decided to set out our thoughts to help you gauge how coachable you are. We looked at this topic through the lens of the following five questions:

1. Self-awareness – how aware are you of your strengths and blind spots?

Rod: You have to have an element of self-awareness so that you are aware of how you come across to others. If you lack this, it makes you more difficult to coach because you are unaware of the impact of your behaviour on other people.

Richard: We’re never completely self-aware. We always have misperceptions and blind spots, but the accuracy of our self-image is a developed capability. It’s something we can build towards.

Common areas of misperception are being over-confident and therefore unaware of our work-ons. Or, on the other hand, being overly pessimistic about our abilities leading us to decline opportunities. Both misperceptions cause a failure to fulfil our potential.

Improving the accuracy of self-awareness is coachable. We can help a perfectionist with a strong inner critic or imposter syndrome see themselves more favourably. Similarly, we can find a way for someone who doesn’t see their weaknesses to develop an appreciation of them.

Rod: One of the best ways to help people develop self-awareness is to ask them what they were trying to achieve, and then show them where there is a mismatch between their intent and their impact. When someone understands that there’s a gap between the two, they know there’s something they need to do differently.

2. Growth mindset – are you willing and able to improve?

Rod: There’s lots written about growth mindset. Fundamentally it relies on a person conceptualising success as a long-term journey of overcoming obstacles and set-backs, learning from failures, and the value of practice over natural talent. 

By contrast, a fixed mindset shows itself in two ways. You believe that talent is innate and if you have it, how can you learn from anyone else? Or, more commonly, there’s a fixed mindset people have around something they can’t do, which creates a great excuse not to try.

You can’t really get rid of this negative fixed mindset but you have to cognizant of the fact it has an impact on you. For example, I’ve always had the mindset that I’m no good at maths, because I was put in the lower set for maths at school when I was nine years old. As a result, I don’t like doing my accounts, so I put it off as long as I can.

Richard: The American psychologist Carol Dweck has done a lot of work on mindsets. She wrote that a factor in how mindsets are forged is selective praise when we were young.

If a parent praises a child for being smart to the point where they identify as smart, the child often chooses to avoid situations where this valued identity, and the parental connection, is at risk.

If the parent praises the child instead for effort, so their can-do attitude becomes the thing that’s valued, then the child will try more things, accept tougher challenges and, most likely, accomplish more, safe in the knowledge that parental connection is assured, a kind of psychological safety if you like.

A growth mindset is an essential aspect of coachability because the person being coached needs to know that there’s room for them to take the risk and learn to do something differently.

3. Humility – How honest, vulnerable, courageous, and accepting are you?

4. Self-belief – How confident, robust, and purposeful are you?

Richard: I’d like to tackle these two questions together, because I think they’re a pair. Recall in our discussion of self-awareness the two shadow misperceptions of hubris or self-doubt. The positive dynamic here is healthy self-belief combined with humility. Instead of being hubristic, we believe in ourselves and we’re confident. Instead of feeling self-doubt, we have humility.

These attributes all revolve around self-image, but one pair – hubris and self-doubt – are false. By contrast, the other pair –self-belief and humility – are a more accurate and realistic assessment of what abilities we can genuinely be confident about and where there is a the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

Rod: I think Richard’s put that very nicely. I like the idea of these attributes being on a spectrum like that. Humility links to some of the other points we’ve discussed. You need humility to accept that you don’t get everything right first time and that you make mistakes, so you can accept that and move on.

While being humble is important to being coachable, self-belief is too.

Richard: I would agree. Being able to flex how vulnerable or robust we are is a core skill. Particularly for leaders, as part of being a leader means identifying what your role is in any given moment. We know that the ability to connect and collaborate and also to challenge and compete are essential behaviours of high-performing teams.

In some moments as a leader we need to be the resource that everyone else can rely upon, which requires us to inspire confidence and give people a sense of security and trust that everything’s going to be fine. At other times showing vulnerability gives the people we are leading permission to show up more as their full selves.

Rod: Without humility, a person doesn’t see themselves as needing to improve, so in that case coaching is unlikely to work, since it’s really all about improvement and development.

Richard: Humility enables us to focus our attention where it’s most needed.

Rod: To improve performance, a person also has to have the self-belief to believe they can achieve their goals.

Richard: If someone doesn’t have self-belief, they can fall into apathy, and they just don’t believe that anything they do is going to make a difference to their lives or their career.

The paradox is that being able to recognise and accept our work-ons, which comes from humility, needs to be combined with the confidence and willingness to work on them – knowing that if I do then I will improve.

5. Discipline – To what extent are you willing to make sacrifices to develop and succeed?

Richard: To be clear I am not talking about sacrificing wellbeing for performance because these are two sides of the same coin. What I am talking about here is an unwillingness to consciously choose which sacrifice to bear.

I sometimes see an unwillingness to pay the price of success amongst young sports people on elite player pathways. Many don’t like to stretch their muscles because it’s painful and boring. However, if they are unwilling to go through the discomfort of stretching they experience a different but potentially greater discomfort on the pitch. They are less mobile, slower, and tire quicker which impacts individual and team performance.

It’s as though the sacrifice of a certain amount of comfort is required and the often-hidden choice is between the boredom and pain in training or discomfort of not fulfilling potential when performing.

The point around discipline is that improvement doesn’t come without a cost, and there’s a requirement to do what it takes to develop and succeed.

Rod: I like the word sacrifice in this context. Ask yourself, what are you willing to give up in order to achieve what you want in the long term? This is often an issue for people, who don’t like to think they have to give something up.

Are you willing to give up sleeping in to take up exercise in the morning, or to restrict what you choose to eat in order to lose weight?

“Hard choices lead to an easy life; easy choices lead to a hard life,” as the saying goes. People that struggle to hit goals often do so because they lack the discipline required to behave in a consistent manner.

So I’m aligned to this idea of sacrificing. If you want to achieve a goal, you have to give up certain things in order to get there. That’s an interesting conversation. How much as you willing to give up to get from where you are to where you want to be?

Richard: Looking through a psychological lens, sometimes, in order to develop, what a person needs to give up is an old version of themselves, to become more of who they really are. We call this a ‘small death’ because the ego loses a false self but gains a new, more accurate sense of self.

Finding a way to coach someone into that first ‘small death’ can be a profound process . It can be very challenging and emotional because the ego thinks it is a big death. But once we’ve gone through it once, it’s becomes easier.

Rod: There’s a question here around what are you consciously sacrificing? Lots of the people Richard and I will work with in the course of our careers are really good at working hard. That’s not an issue for these people.

But you ask them about their relationships with their families and they might not be as healthy as they could be, because there’s a bias towards working 70 hours a week and being career focused to achieve what they want. That’s ok, but what are you subconsciously sacrificing in the process?

This comes back to the self-awareness point. If you’re aware that you’re doing it and it’s a conscious choice, all of that’s ok. But you have to be clear that, in order to say yes to that, something else has to give.

Worried about your coachability?

All of the five characteristics we’ve discussed can themselves be coached. In essence, the more we are coached the more coachable we become. If you’re worried that you might not be ready, remember also that coaching is flexible and adaptive.

One of the most important elements to successful coaching is to find the right coach for you. You won’t gel with everyone, and that’s fine. The right coach is somebody who is able to meet you where you are at and attend to you as you move to where you want to go.

For more information or to speak to one of our consultants about coaching, please contact Richard Wilmot or Roderic Yapp.