Effective leaders are more like coaches than managers. Instead of leading an employee toward a preset answer that meets their own objectives, coaches support the person on a path toward career development and, ultimately, greater job satisfaction.
Coaches help their teams grow on a professional level, but being a coachable employee is a vital part of the equation, says behavioral scientist and master certified coach Marcia Reynolds, author of Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry.
“Coaching must be focused on what the person being coached wants to achieve,” she says. “It can be a mutual goal that benefits both the leader and the employee, but leaders need to be careful. The problem is if the employee isn’t ready to be coached. That could be due to doubt or fear about the outcome.”
Whether it’s from a professional coach, a manager, or a peer, being coachable is a crucial aspect of continuing to grow as a professional at any level, says Reynolds. In fact, many high performers in the world of sports, such as Tom Brady and Tiger Woods, thrive on being coached.
To be coachable, you need to have three critical traits:
A willingness to explore beyond the surface
First, you must be agreeable to being coached. A willingness to at least try is critical in order for the relationship to have a chance of success.
“Willingness can be trying something out to see if it’s good for you,” says Reynolds. “Willingness can be short term—just on conversation—but it has to be sincere. And you have to be willing to explore what you don’t know.”
A desire to pursue a goal
Willingness and desire are a chicken-and-egg situation, says Reynolds. You need willingness to try, but you must have a desire to sustain the relationship over time.
“Something that is important to you will help you sustain your willingness,” she says. “You can try something, but you will need something to sustain the pain of getting the goal met. Willingness and desire go hand in hand.”
Courage to be vulnerable
You may be willing to have a conversation and the desire to see it through, but when it comes down to reaping the benefits of being coached, you need courage, says Reynolds.
“I had a client who had to fire someone,” says Reynolds. “They had the willingness to do it and the desire to get to the outcome; firing the person would make the team better. But on our next coaching call, he hadn’t done it. When I asked what was stopping him, he said he was scared.”
Achieving goals takes courage, even if you are willing and have desire. To be coachable, you must dig deeper and uncover the root of your fears and the cause of what stops you. Reynolds says her client determined he was afraid of being judged by others for laying someone off. He was also afraid he wouldn’t do it right, and he feared he’d ruin the employee’s life.
“When you explore each fear, you’ll often find that they’re baseless,” she says. “Get beyond the logic, because fear is usually not based on it.”
While all three traits are necessary, a lack of courage is often the stopper for becoming coachable. Even if you’re willing and have desire, when it comes down to the deciding moment, fear may stop you from following through.