Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Coaching Conversations between colleagues.


Our world and workplaces continue to disrupt. This can create stress within us and our teams. Stress amplifies resistance to change, when what we actually need is greater agility in this decade of disruption. In my book Wired for Disruption, I wrote about the five forms of agility that we need to learn and practice. While we cannot predict the future, we can participate in creating it through our practice of agility.

The key to our growing our agility is opening ourselves up to become more coachable.

I sat down with the Wall Street Journal best-selling authors of Becoming Coachable, Scott Osman, Jacquelyn Lane, and Marshall Goldsmith to discuss their latest book. They outlined the four proven ways each of us can become more coachable.

Henna Inam: In a workplace and world that is disrupting, why is becoming coachable a critical (not just a nice-to-have) leadership competency?

Scott Osman and Jacquelyn Lane: In a disruptive business environment the ability to adapt, grow, and thrive amidst change is essential. The most successful leaders are agile learners who can evolve continuously. These are also the abilities of the coachable leader. By leveraging the outside perspective of a coach, or by using our book Becoming Coachable as entry into coaching, leaders can gain self-awareness, take in constructive feedback, and build new skills. This enables them to lead with more empathy and humanity, ultimately creating greater impact in their organizations. Becoming coachable is a core competency because it allows leaders to unlock their full potential and flourish.

H. Inam: As a coach to C-level executives, I recognize that a coaching engagement is a partnership between the leader and their coach, and the coachability of the leader is the key driver of results. What are the biggest barriers you see to becoming more coachable?

S. Osman and J. Lane: Marshall Goldsmith, our co-author, globally recognized as the world’s #1 executive coach, is quick to recognize that biggest differentiator in the success of a coaching engagement is how coachable the leader is. Even the greatest coach in the world will not have success if the leader is unwilling to be coached.

For a leader to be coachable, they must be open to four key things: change, feedback, taking action, and being held accountable. Doubts and hesitations are welcome; in fact, it’s normal. That’s why we use the words “open to”. If the leader is open then they are willing to suspend doubt and accept change, outside perspectives, and the coaching process. With a coach by their side, this is much easier.

It’s worth noting that there are several potential barriers to becoming coachable that we should each examine ourselves for. Some common challenges are defensiveness, ego, and having a fixed mindset. Some leaders fear that seeking a coach signals failure or weakness. Others mistakenly believe they have nothing left to learn, instead believing that their current skills and talents that have gotten them where they are today will also get them to where they want to be. Leaders who think they have all the answers or that their abilities are innate may not have the humility and vulnerability required in a coaching relationship. Some jobs reinforce that we add value by being the smartest person in the room. As a leader, this becomes a limiting belief that holds us back. It is the job of the leader to tap into the skills, talents, and insights of others. Letting go of the need to be right and embracing humility are the essential, but not easy, first steps toward becoming coachable.

H. Inam: We are what we practice. Based on your research, what are essential practices for becoming more coachable?

S. Osman and J. Lane: Our collective observation of hundreds of coaching engagements illuminated four key areas that make up coachability—being open to change, open to feedback, open to taking action, and open to being held accountable. These are discussed in detail in our book, Becoming Coachable, and illustrated with many coaching stories. Leaders can practice being coachable by proactively seeking input from others, creating space for reflection, asking open ended questions, and having the courage to experiment with new behaviors outside their comfort zone.

Small steps add up. The most coachable leaders turn coaching into a daily practice rather than a one-off intervention. Even if they meet with a coach weekly, they put the work into practice daily. Approaching every interaction as a learning opportunity will build the muscle of coachability over time. We’re confident that this simple shift will make a difference for any leader in only a few weeks.

The most coachable leaders are able to adopt a growth mindset and recognize that their skills and knowledge can always expand through dedication and hard work. They understand that even the best leaders have blind spots. The best leaders check their ego at the door, embrace humility, and commit to their development by being open to the process.

H. Inam: How we lead is often a function of our world view, which is core to who we are. Many of our world views and what triggers us were formed when we were young and are literally part of our nervous system and biology. From personal experience this is often challenging to work with. What advice do you have for leaders?

S. Osman and J. Lane: This is a profound point. Our early experiences shape our perspective in ways we may not consciously realize. To expand limiting perspectives, leaders must trace current behaviors back to formative experiences and core beliefs. Then, with self-awareness and courage, leaders may intentionally choose to rewrite internal narratives when needed. This is hard work for any of us to do alone; a skilled coach can help uncover these hidden drivers and provide tools to lead from a more conscious place. While examining our deepest assumptions can be uncomfortable, it allows us to lead with more wisdom and compassion.

Our advice to leaders is to have the courage to explore your inner landscape with curiosity and non-judgement. Then, with self-awareness and courage, intentionally choose to address narratives and behaviors that don’t serve you or people around you. As the old adage says: we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. A growth mindset recognizes that we have agency. Change usually begins from within.

H. Inam: Based on my experience, if the coaching is working and going deep, the leader often faces a lot of inner resistance because many of their world views are being challenged. What do you recommend to leaders when this happens?

S. Osman and J. Lane: You’re right that moving beyond our comfort zone can trigger resistance, even when we “want to change.” Some resistance is natural. Becoming Coachable stresses the importance of resilience in these moments. We recommend being gentle with yourself, while also continuing to make progress with determination. It’s natural to experience emotional turbulence when confronting deeply held beliefs. Talking through concerns with a coach and trusting the process will help you address and move through internal resistance. You can maintain perspective by focusing on your growth journey and a powerful vision of the leader you want to be that inspires you, rather than immediate discomfort. Leaders must embark on their own journey first so they can then elevate others and support them to do the same.

H. Inam: Many of my C-level clients also want to become better coaches for their direct reports. How can they help their direct reports become more coachable?

S. Osman and J. Lane: This is a great question. We also see this a lot; a coached leader learns how to coach and elevate the people on their teams.

We believe that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to establish a culture of being coachable on their teams. Leaders should role model openness, vulnerability, and resilience. They should ask team members for their feedback regularly, listen actively without judgment, and express gratitude for positive and negative feedback alike. It’s also important to ensure they are creating a psychologically safe environment. For example, the leader can avoid providing excessive direction or advice up front. Instead, they can guide team members through reflective exercises to unearth their own solutions. This develops self-reliance and coachability in direct reports. Rewarding growth and participation in coaching and openness exercises, where appropriate, reinforces a coachable culture.

H. Inam: When leaders become more coachable in all aspects of our lives, what shifts in behaviors do you start to notice? How do these shifts impact the teams and stakeholders of these leaders?

S. Osman and J. Lane: As leaders become more coachable, they often become more empowering, self-aware, collaborative, and purpose-driven. They display a combination of humility, in recognizing that they don’t have all the answers, and confidence in their team’s ability to navigate challenges together. They listen better and communicate with more clarity and care. They are open to the feedback of their team members, making them more aware and in tune. Their teams respond by feeling empowered, valued, and engaged.

Stakeholders notice more transparency and visionary thinking. The leaders lift those around them. Culture evolves to support learning and innovation. Conflict gives way to collaboration. The organization benefits from nimble leadership that responds to challenges with agility. In essence, through coachability, leaders transform not just themselves but their business ecosystem. The collective growth enables the organization to flourish.

H. Inam: Please share the mission of your book and how our readers can learn more.

Becoming Coachable aims to demystify coaching and provide anyone with the right mindset and tools to fully leverage coaching. The book can support your coaching journey, or perhaps be your first coach. It emphasizes the importance of coachability in achieving results. It shares insight into the attitude and actions that enable being coachable. The journey of coachability begins with an open mind and heart and leads to the flourishing of your business, teams, and all of those you lead and love. Readers can learn more by visiting www.becomingcoachable.com.

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