What Makes Someone ‘Coachable?’

Tags: Assessing Performance, Coaching, Leadership Worth Sharing Blog

As a leadership and executive coach, I’m often called in to ‘help’ incumbent leaders ‘’grow’ into their roles. Said differently, organizations are unhappy with the performance of these leaders and are ‘hoping’ that I can get their performance on track.

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I love to do which is why I’ve devoted my life’s work to helping others achieve their ‘highest self.’ However, and this is a big ‘however,’ I have learned the hard way – after many hours of effort, meditation and personal reflection – that not everyone is ‘coachable.’ It really does take ‘two to tango’ when it comes to effective and successful leadership coaching, or coaching of any kind.

This was actually a hard lesson to learn for both myself and the organizations that hire me. Not to mention the coachee! But it’s also helped me identify the must-have conditions that makes a leader or anyone, in general, ‘coachable.’

The Must-Have Conditions for Coaching Success

Anyone who has ever coached a sport – or managed people – will quickly identify with what I’m saying here. For people to be ‘coachable,’ they must possess the following characteristics:

    1. Attitude: There must be ownership from the individual, themselves. Essentially, they need to want to improve; believe they can improve; and be willing to ‘own’ the hard work needed to improve.
    2. Aptitude: They must be realistically capable of doing what’s expected of them. And to be clear, not what they expect of themselves but what you expect of them. Oftentimes, these are two entirely different things which is a whole different issue!

My experience has shown that without these two conditions, the likelihood for long term success is practically impossible.

How to Identify These Conditions 

This is actually an equally important topic, if not more so, than understanding the pre-requisite conditions for coaching success. What makes it so important is that I’m often asked by HR, senior executives or managers to ’fix’ someone else within their organization. These requestors must be able to realistically assess these individuals’ ‘coachability’ before they invest the time, money and other valuable resources necessary to do so.

So let’s get started. What do these ‘coachability’ conditions look like?

      • Ownership from the individual ensures that buy-in is there. Buy-in ensures the right attitude and mentality is in place. It also ensures any improvement is sustainable because the person ‘wants’ to do better. On the flip side, someone who is not willing to be coached from the ‘starting gate’ is already a lost cause. Sure, you can force the coaching on them but any improvements are likely to be superficial and quickly dropped by the wayside once the coach disengages.
      • Capability and talent means even if they are willing, do they really have what it takes to change the way you need them to change? Imagine a scenario where you have a leader whom you’d like to be much more direct, blunt and decisive with his team. However, his personal style –in all situations – is more soft-spoken and non-confrontational with a penchant for team decisions/consensus. At this point, you have to ask yourself if this person has the necessary aptitude. Where coaching can successfully emphasize or de-emphasize components of ourselves, it can’t change our innate style. We are who we are. So in the previous example, the organization can either change expectations of the role, or consider someone else for the role. Anything else will be waste of time and energy.

So How is this Relevant for You?

As a manager and leader . . . it’s simple, STOP putting hope into ‘un-coachable’ situations and people! This may sound harsh but it is advice to live by. Spend your valuable time on the ‘coachable’ people in your life and move on from the ‘un-coachable.’

While this sounds harsh, recognize that the longer ‘un-coachable’ performers fail to do their jobs; the more you suffer, your team suffers and, in many ways, the performer suffers. But without a willing participant, coaching will only provide a temporary fix.

Another piece of advice. If you determine that someone is coachable, make sure you really believe they can be successful, and then do everything in your power to support their efforts. Don’t assume that the coach and the employee can do it all in a vacuum.

As a performer yourself . . . Do your own soul searching and determine if you have both the attitude and aptitude to be ‘coachable.’ I don’t mean just by another individual but in the broader sense of continuing to educate yourself. Are you open to learning new things, upgrading your skills, staying abreast of new technologies, processes or theories? This is the attitude that builds the aptitude.

Here’s your Challenge!

The next time you consider getting a leadership coach for yourself or for someone else, simply apply the litmus test first: Are they willing? Are they capable? Have the courage and discipline to not only ask the questions, but follow through and get the help that they need if the answer is ‘yes.’ Or consider them in a different role or place, wherever that may be, if the answer is ‘no.’

Let’s Talk

Feel free to send me your challenges, questions and comments at rubi@therubihogroup.com.   I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine.   All of us can inspire, lead and achieve and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.


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