On Being Coachable

I have spent a few posts about my experiences coaching other folks. It is immensely satisfying to coach and mentor people in their careers, but not everyone is mentally ready to be coached by someone else. Pride is legit, and exposing yourself to the critical eye of others with the express purpose of having them break you down can be difficult. Many times the things we need the most coaching on are things we attach our sense of self to. Subsequently, we do not improve as fast as we could have, if we had that course correction.

Here are four tips for being coachable.

1. Remove the Personal Stake

Take a deep breath and start here: You are valuable. You matter. It is critical that you continue being who you are. Unfortunately, the things we need coaching on often are those same things that we use as a crutch to define our identity. Look very deeply and critically at your own crutches before you do anything else.

You do not need coaching on how to be a better you. Coaching is for skills, for empathy and awareness. A good coach pushes you towards a place where you can improve what you are doing, not who you are. If you attach your ego to a set of skills, you will buckle against guidance.

This is 2020. Most people will hold several careers over the course of their lives. There is no value in remaining static to a single set of skills, and just as so there little value attaching your identity to those skills. If you find yourself saying ‘but this is who I am’, step back, and ask ‘is this who I want to be?’

2. Make Yourself Conspicuous

A key element to being coachable is access, and making what you are doing open and visible. If your coach or mentor cannot see you what you do on a regular basis, you are limiting that person’s ability to help you. The key here is to make your coach aware of the specifics of what you are doing.

Examples: As a softball coach, I can talk in general terms about batting, but for an individual player, I can target her specific stance and swing when I see her swing. My CrossFit coaches address movement when they specifically see them, and the movement is still fresh in my mind. When pairing with a software developer, I can consistently nudge back to write tests before they write the implementation, as opposed to doing a simple code review, where I may not see that developer’s whole process.

3. Get a Regular Feedback Loop

Now that you have made what you do visible, you have to setup a regular feedback schedule. Look for feedback that is targeted, specific, and on a detail you are capable and interested in changing. Regularity of that feedback is the critical element here. Setup a scheduled time for that feedback and disconnect it from the immediacy of the moment.

This one sounds counter intuitive but coaching is done well during a time of introspection. During the moment, it is too easy to get emotionally attached to what it is you are doing, and so criticism hits buttons harder than they really are intended to. You need to pick the right time, when the moment is still fresh in your mind, but detached from those immediate emotional points connecting it to your sense of self.

4. Invest Your Time

The only way to get better at something is to put in the time, and it’s the most useful way to follow after a coaching session. You cannot watch a video on improving your short game, and just expect your handicap to drop three points. Spending time on Udemy watching guitar instruction videos is great, but you have to put in the work and practice what you’ve seen. Nobody learns to swim from a book about swimming.

Once you’ve taken the time to remove the personal stake, make yourself conspicuous, and set a regular feedback loop, the final step is to exercise consistent and deliberate practice. Things won’t necessarily come immediately, but you’ll be able to push forward more quickly. Dedicate calendar space and some distraction free time to practice the deep work required to improve. Turn off the rest of the world, and build your skills.

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