The Missing Ingredient: Why Coachability Matters in Coaching Success


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By: Corry Robertson, PCC

The Missing Ingredient_ Why Coachability Matters in Coaching Success

Coaching for performance management and improvement has become a very “in-demand” leadership skill because it is effective and well-received when done right. Today, I want to start unpacking the winning conditions for coaching that work for everyone involved.

Let’s start! 

Coaching Is A Partnership

The first thing to address is that at the root of a successful coaching dynamic is the understanding that coaching is a partnership.

You need…

A qualified coach. 

A coachable person. 

And trustworthy, relevant sponsors and stakeholders.

For a person to be coachable, these three variables must be solid. But all too often, people walk into a coaching conversation expecting coaching to be:

  • Friendly, take-it-or leave-it advice
  • Pep talks or motivational speaking
  • Consultative guidance
  • Directive leadership
  • Training
  • Counselling or therapy
  • Tips and tricks

For a person to get anything out of a coaching conversation, they must first know that coaching is not a catch-all term for helping people along as they try to achieve their goals. Coaching is NOT a hit-or-miss, catch-all activity! With good coaching skills and genuine coachability, the coaching conversation will deliver the goods.

Success In Coaching Is A Two-way Street

Success In Coaching Is A Two-way Street

The coach acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices.

This can be tough to reconcile when using coaching as a leadership style with people who report to you. You, the manager, are often responsible for the choices, and the team members must follow directions. This seems to contradict the coaching approach.

In this context, the other person who is responsible for their own choices is very much responsible and accountable for being coachable and following through on their learning, growth, and results as a team member.

Being responsible and accountable for their choices means they can enjoy the rewards of success or experience the consequences of making poor choices, such as dropping the ball, not following through, not showing up, or making other mistakes.

All too often, everyone throughout the ranks wants something to change for the better; however, everyone expects everyone else to change.

I have personally witnessed people love the idea of being invited to participate in a coaching program, even beating on HR’s door demanding professional development, but bailing out of the program once they realize that coaching means they have work to do and will be held accountable for results.

Success in coaching is a two-way street, but the person being coached is at the wheel of success. Not a passenger taking a nap at the back of the bus.

Coachees Have Work To Do Too

As a coach trainer, I often see the coach working way harder than the coachee in the coaching conversation. But if the coachee is on the team, they have their own heavy lifting to do.

First of all, to be coachable, the person being coached needs to be in an environment of Psychological Trust and Safety. As the person doing the coaching, you have a big role to play in that. The organizational culture also has a part to play in that. And then there is the role of the person being coached. 

As I teach in Coaching Fundamentals, Coaching Competency #3—Establishing and Maintaining the Coaching Agreement—is truly the superpower of the coaching session and sets the trajectory for the results and value of the coaching conversation. 

Coaching is a partnership. Because it is a transparent modality, we always ensure that the person being coached is a willing partner in the conversation.

This is where the concept of coachability applies. 

What Does Coachability Mean

What Does Coachability Mean?

Coachability is a person’s willingness and ability to embrace the opportunity to improve their performance or achieve their goals with the support of a coach.  

The thing is, as great a coach as you may be, as much as you may believe in a person, or as much as you contribute to the coaching conversation, the person being coached has to be coachable—and not everyone is. And that’s probably because they may not have the time, the energy or a thirst for self-improvement.

Explaining the Concept of Coaching

When introducing coaching to your team members, it’s important to describe how coaching will benefit them personally. In other words, you need to tune them into everyone’s favourite radio station: WII-FM – what’s in it for me?

Here’s a breakdown you can share with them:

Improved performance

By being open to coaching, a person can identify areas for improvement and take action to enhance their skills and performance. This can lead to better results in their personal and professional endeavours.

Personal Growth

A good coaching conversation can help individuals develop a growth mindset and a continuous learning approach. They can gain new insights, perspectives, and knowledge that can help them become more self-aware and confident in their abilities.

Career Development

Coaching supports people in figuring out their path, applying what they’re learning, building great habits, and developing professionally.  

Better Relationships

Being coached often helps them think through and sort out their relationship challenges. Coaching helps individuals confront, resolve, and prevent issues that are creating tension and causing conflict, which can lead to stronger and more positive relationships with others, such as coworkers, supervisors, or family members.

Increased Resilience

Coachable individuals can develop greater resilience and the ability to overcome challenges and disappointments.

Stress Management

While coaching is not therapy, many describe it as therapeutic because they feel great after a coaching conversation. They get to talk through an issue and find a solution from beginning to end. They are heard and supported. They are able to sort out their thoughts and find a clear pathway for the journey forward. Ahhhhhh…what a relief!

Overall, being coachable can lead to greater personal and professional success, satisfaction, and fulfillment. It can help individuals achieve their goals and aspirations while fostering continuous learning and development.

Setting “Coachable” Expectations

Setting “Coachable” Expectations

If you are setting up a coaching program, there are a few logistical things to keep in mind about onboarding a coachee to ensure the best coachability. This is a key factor in a successful coaching mandate for both the coachee and the company.

Coaching is not something that is done to a person. 

The coach’s responsibility is to coach. When looking at coaching through the lens of performance management and improvement, the other person is responsible and accountable for their results.

If you are thinking about inviting people to join a coaching program, here are some best practices to be aware of:

Ensure That Expectations Are Set for What Coaching Is and What Coaching Is Not

Ensure that logistics and ethics are established (such as the confidentiality of the coaching conversation), name the stakeholders and sponsor, and advise the person with whom the coachee will share their results before agreeing to be coached. 

In my practice, I ask for a list of stakeholders before the coaching begins, and the coachee must be privy to this list. If someone from the company calls me to ask how the coaching is going, they must be on the stakeholder list. 

In addition, both the stakeholders and the coachee have to know that the only questions that I will answer are questions like:

Are they showing up for the sessions?

How many sessions have there been so far?

How many are left on the mandate?

Are they engaged in the sessions?

This is to maintain the person’s trust in me and the coaching experience. If trust is broken, the person’s coachability will diminish significantly. Game over.

Invite Only the Individuals Who Are on a Personal and Professional Quest for Self-Discovery and Self-Improvement

When the intention of coaching is performance management or improvement, ensure that the individuals who will be coached know they have to put their skin in the game. Results are expected, and it takes sustained effort over time to get results—just like going to the gym.

No matter how well-intentioned the person is, ensure they have the desire, time, and energy for coaching. If they are spread too thin, they will not be coachable.

Ensure That They Have the Support of Their Manager

Depending on the program, the person will need to make time for 2 to 4 calls a month for 6 to 12 months. The person will need a long enough runway to gain new perspectives, transform insights into behaviour changes, and build new habits as they grow. New attitudes, behaviours, and habits take time to nurture and develop.

Ensure That the Person Has a Big Say in the Goals They Are Expected To Achieve

Ensure That the Person Has a Big Say in the Goals They Are Expected To Achieve

Also, ensure that the sponsor and/or manager approve the coaching goal plan in advance. It’s very discouraging for a coachee to feel like they’re knocking it out of the park, only to be told several months later that their goals and efforts are meaningless to the organization.

Ensure the Coachee Has a Say in the Choice of Coach

Not all coaching mandates are appropriate for an internal coach. For example, an internal coach would not be appropriate when an executive cannot discuss their challenges with a project because it is top-secret and will not be announced for a few more months. 

So, in addition to having a strong bench of internal coaches (employees who have ICF training and engage in coaching mandates with other colleagues), the coaching program should also include a selection of external coaches that coachees may choose from.

Give the person being coached a selection of ICF professional coaches to choose from so they feel the coach-coachee compatibility is there.

Establish Your Criteria for Coachability and Make Them Available to the Organization’s Candidates

The coaching candidates can then volunteer to participate in the program when they know what coaching is about. One suggested rollout would be:

  • Publish a print or digital brochure to describe your company’s coaching program.
  • Include the coachability traits and qualities you are looking for in candidates for coaching.
  • Organize a town hall-style meeting to present the logistics and benefits of the coaching program and describe what you are looking for in coachees.
  • Make sure that the managers are well informed about the coaching program so that they can answer questions and invite candidates.
  • Ask the candidate to apply in writing for a coach, describing what they want from coaching and what makes them coachable.
  • Have a 1:1 interview with the person to discuss the coaching program and ascertain if they are truly coachable at this time.
Key Takeaway

Key Takeaway

Remember that coaching is a partnership built on mutual trust and commitment. Your role as a coach is to facilitate growth and provide the framework for your coachees to achieve their best selves. However, the ultimate success of this journey lies in their hands, underscored by their willingness to engage, grow, and adapt.

The journey to becoming or fostering coachability is continuous and evolving. It demands a thoughtful approach to selecting participants, structuring engagements, and nurturing a culture of growth and openness.

If you would like to discuss strategies for your own organization’s coaching program, I invite you to reach out to me.


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Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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