Blog: Demystifying Coachability

Training & Development

Demystifying Coachability

The entire brouhaha around coaching is about how coaches should develop themselves and omits creating coachability in individuals although no coach training is ever complete without the cautionary adage – coach only the coachable.
Demystifying Coachability

Sometime back Forbes asked the members of their Communication Council to explain the most important traits they look for when hiring[1]. The first in the list was ‘Coachability’.

A quick search in the dictionary reveals that it means ‘capable of being easily taught and trained to do something better’.

Research has indicated coaching to be the newest and most promising technique for personal growth and development. However, the entire brouhaha around coaching is about how coaches should develop themselves and omits creating coachability in individuals although no coach training is ever complete without the cautionary adage – coach only the coachable. Most professional coaching bodies prescribe an elaborate list of coach competencies and evaluate aspiring coaches rigorously to award coaching certifications. However, it does not have any competency outlined to be demonstrated for coachability although a study by McKenna & Davis (2009) around executive coaching found that 40% of impact of coaching is dependent on the person’s readiness for coaching[2].

So, how do the thousands of coaches that are entering this booming industry recognize and determine who can be coached? Is it innocuous to leave it to their individual judgement?

In a study that I conducted recently, 80% (n = 71) of certified coaches across the globe admitted to having found their coachee lacking coachability sometime or the other although the frequency varied. Interestingly, only 44% of them terminated a coaching engagement ever owing to that. So, it can be safely assumed that coaches continue to engage with people despite finding them not coachable. This is when this engagement is built on the premise of self-initiation.

So, what makes one coachable?

Humility: This is not to be confused with modesty. Humility allows us to explore our ourselves and have an internal gaze without being condescending. It is the absence of or freedom from competitive reflex – the preconscious, visceral impulse to oppose or outdo others, or to auto-react against perceived threats to one’s established sense of self[3]. People without humility mostly view situations as a call for a confirmation of their intelligence, skills and superiority. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes:

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?”

This pattern could be abundant in those who would rather protect their ego than going through the discomfort of being humbled. Although, coaches should pay close attention to distinguish between initial restraint owing to that inhibition and denial.    

Self-Efficacy: It is a person's belief in her ability to succeed in a particular situation and naturally it affects every area of human endeavor. Albert Bandura who originated this concept through his seminal paper ‘Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change’ (1977) described these beliefs as determinants of how people think, behave, and feel[4].

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy view challenges as things to be mastered. Any failure at it is typically attributed to lack of effort allowing them to recover from it faster. On the contrary, people with a weak sense of self-efficacy view difficult tasks from the prospect of a loss frame and threat which make them shy away from it. That framing also results in increased negativity bias making them magnify the skills they do not possess for the task as opposed to the ones they are adept at. Hence, a failure makes them attribute it to their abilities thus diminishing their faith in themselves.

It is worth mentioning that self-efficacy should not be confused with self-confidence. Whereas the former is a form of faith; the latter, a feeling.

Drive: In the book by the same name, Daniel H Pink writes, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” This drive is liberated, in his theory, when people anchor themselves more on intrinsic motivation – the desire to do something for the internal satisfaction of it. 

Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives, Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters and finally Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves[5]. 

Simply put, drive is to want to be productive for its own sake inducing increased arousal and internal motivation to reach a particular goal. Not limited to only how hard a person works, it is also the willingness to take on stretch assignments, eagerness for more responsibility and even readiness to sacrifice.

Lacking any of these only means that a person is not ready for coaching NOW but never implies that she will not be ready for coaching EVER. We might tend to think that these characteristics are traits, but these are not genetically determined. These stem from a person’s worldview or philosophy of life – a set of assumptions, methods or notions which serve them in making meaning in this world. 

Although, the moot point now becomes whether you can coach the ‘uncoachables’? Depends – on whether you consider the proverbial juice worth the squeeze. However, it’s best that you remain conscious about the choice and are willing to exert the energy and time this route might demand. 

Coaching is about exercising judgement of course; however, as coaches, we want to be mindful that we are not being judgmental while we scout for these qualities in our coachees.


*Views expressed are solely personal and not representation of any organization or institution.


  1. Six Traits Employers Are Looking For In New Hires: Forbes
  2. Hidden in Plain Sight: The Active Ingredients of Executive Coaching -
  3. The Paradoxical Power of Humility; Pyschology Today
  4. Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies
  5. DRIVE: The Summaries: DanPink
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Topics: Training & Development, #GuestArticle

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