Confidence vs. Coachability: Paradox Anyone?

by Andreas Schumacher, PhD

Coachability in a Nutshell

Coachability is a person’s interest and capacity to practice continuous, feedback-grounded self-development. It refers to a leader’s attitude, not skills. Being coachable requires open and humble acceptance of others’ feedback and the willingness to reflect and put into practice, what was learned. Most competency models suggest coachability to be a factor in leaders’ attitudes toward developing oneself and remaining adaptable over the span of their careers.

Why it Matters

In a 2017 study of over 51,000 leaders, researchers Zenger and Folkman showed that those who are more coachable were more effective leaders. The study also found that leaders with the highest potential showed high coachability. In other words, the best leaders tend to be the ones most coachable, and in turn, lead more engaged employees.

The Paradox of Confidence in Coachability

Promotions into more senior roles can often create false security in the assumption that we have already mastered all necessary skills and do not need any further development. Yet, as responsibility for tasks transforms into accountability for results, so must a leader’s effectiveness evolve. 

Here is where coaches often run into a paradox with their clients: As confidence increases, the willingness to ask for feedback increases. BUT…as confidence rises to the highest level, asking for feedback declines. Executive coaches working with highly experienced senior executives often assess the potential of such paradoxical forces within their clients and help them re-engage in their efforts to nurture a growth and innovation-oriented mindset.

Becoming a Coachable Leader

Coachable leaders ensure they:

  1. Make a real effort to improve based on feedback from others
  2. Actively look for opportunities to get feedback to improve themselves
  3. Create a culture of continual improvement in which self and others push to exceed past results

When next working with your executive coach, discuss your perceived level of coachability – your own view and that of relevant others -, then dig a little deeper into the necessary attitudes safeguarding a leader’s openness to self-development:

Necessary Attitudes to Become Coachable

  1. The assumption that others have your best interest at heart
  2. Confidence that if there is something “wrong”, you can fix it
  3. Belief that you have been successful in the past and will be in the future
  4. Willingness to take risks. Remember: Getting feedback is never completely safe
  5. Willingness to take initiative and put in extra effort, if necessary

Through a combination of unbiased self-reflection and wholistically thoughtful coaching, clients can zero in on those hidden strengths (and possible blindspots) determining their leadership effectiveness beyond skills, abilities, talents, or trophies.

Elevate your Leadership Potential

To learn more about leadership effectiveness, coachability, and executive coaching, reach out to Andreas for a consultation.