Who is Coachable?!

By Tom Henschel

I had coached Kelsey and she’d thrived. Now she asked if I’d coach, Brianna, one of her direct reports.

During our coaching, Kelsey had talked about Brianna at length. From Kelsey’s description, I wasn’t sure Brianna was coachable. Then I met her. Doubts turned towards certainty. I went back to Kelsey and told her my sense: Brianna was not coachable.

“But isn’t everyone coachable” Kelsey asked.

I told that more than twenty years before, I had been part of a groundbreaking group of coaches that had grappled with that very question. We had come up with criteria for who was and who was not coachable. I handed it to her now on a single page.Arden Executive Coaching | Who is Coachable?!

One thing I knew about Kelsey: she was curious. Not surprisingly, she wanted to know, first, why those four attributes would make someone uncoachable.

“It’s the absence of those traits that makes someone uncoachable,” I said.

“Well, I’m not big on self-reflection, but I think I was coachable,” she said.

A leader didn’t need all four traits, I said. But at least two or three. My concern was that Brianna didn’t display any.

Thinking about curiosity, Kelsey mused that Brianna often listened to complex information but rarely asked questions. Kelsey sensed Brianna worried that asking questions might make her vulnerable. By that measure, Kelsey thought, Brianna was not curious.

“How would you know whether she’s self-reflective?” Kelsey asked, moving to the second trait.

I said, “People who are self-reflective ask themselves certain questions. Why did something happen, or what does something mean, or how did I contribute to that outcome. And then they talk about those thoughts. Those thoughts are self-reflective.”

She laughed. “Like I said, that’s not me!” She pointed to “Self-Responsible” and said, “But that one is me! I am super-responsible. You don’t think Brianna is?”

“What’s your experience, Kelsey?” I asked.

With a sad smile, she said, “Never mind. Brianna does not keep her agreements. That’s a lot of why I want her to get coaching! OK, so three down, one to go.” She smiled, saying, “I understand why resilience is so important for coaching. There were a couple times when our work knocked me a little off balance.”

“Really, Kelsey? When?”

“Well, the 360 for starters. My feelings were hurt. You knew that, didn’t you?”

“I did. And,” I held up a finger and smiled, “you are very resilient.”

“But Brianna, not so much,” she said more to herself than to me.

Kelsey ended up not giving Brianna a coach.

Kelsey had the idea to use the four traits as a method for assessing potential in her leaders. She found that people who are ready for coaching are often the same ones who are ready for leadership. Knowing who is coachable became an important arrow in her team’s leadership development quiver.



Is the person you have in mind for coaching, coachable?  Contact Tom to discuss!