It was a Tuesday morning and I was having a perfectly delightful conversation with my friend, Heather, when it took an unexpected turn. I don’t even remember what we were talking about but she suddenly interrupted me in the middle of a sentence, looked me right in the eye, and asked, “Are you coachable?” At first, I didn’t understand her question. Huh? What did she mean? What was this in reference to? Instead of asking her to clarify, I sat with it.
Am I coachable?
After a few moments, I flashed back to when I was a gymnast and spent all of my free time outside of school training for competitions. Memories of me falling off the beam and bars or stumbling on the floor exercise sprung into focus. I would stomp around in utter frustration and I’d curse myself for screwing up. I could throw quite a fit!
My coaches would try to give me helpful tips and advice but I refused to hear it. I would get insanely worked up even by the tiniest of mistakes. Recovering to a place where I could learn from those mistakes and try again was not in the realm of possibility. Once a mistake was made, I was ruined for the rest of the practice. If I wobbled or fell during a competition… forget about it. I couldn’t get back on track with the remaining events.
Was I coachable? Ha! Hell no. I was a perfectionist who had to get everything right. If I let someone help me, guide me, or point me in another direction, that would mean that I’m not doing something right. I also saw guidance as a sign of failure on my part. I loved it when my coaches pushed me hard but would shut down and not accept advice when I couldn’t perform a skill well.
As I look back, I realize that I had the natural abilities and potential to be a great gymnast, but because of my attitude and lack of coachability, I was only a good gymnast.
I’d been like this with most things in my life. MUST GET IT RIGHT! Had I missed the most important lesson in life? What if being coachable is the key to greatness? What if the ability to accept feedback graciously…no wait, accept it with enthusiasm, curiosity, and gratitude was the path to success?
Recently, a good friend (and colleague) of mine was sharing his experience with leading a 3-day workshop for the first time. He was paired with a co-leader who had led these workshops many times before and would be guiding and mentoring him.
I asked him how it went and if he felt like he did a great job. He laughed and said, “No! I screwed up at least 100 times. My co-leader was giving me feedback all day long. It just kept coming.” To my surprise, he then went on to tell me how much he loved getting all of the feedback and he couldn’t wait to lead the workshop again soon. He was so excited he could barely contain himself because of the learning and growth potential ahead of him. He said it was one of the best experiences of his life.
Ah ha! This is what coachable looks like.
Another thing I realized is that being coachable is a choice. Choosing to be open to new, better, and different ways of doing things is a way of pushing down on the accelerator of your career. Aiming to “look good” and “get it right” is like hitting the brakes.
Once I personally stepped into this idea of being coachable, I was floored by how freeing it was. I became less fearful of making mistakes and more enthusiastic about how much I could gain from it. When I got really curious about other's suggestions and trying them on for size, it opened up possibility in unimaginable and rewarding ways. I started becoming a better coach myself, achieved goals that had eluded me before, and even rocked the scorpion pose in yoga class.
I had tried this pose so many times before with no success. In fact, it took nearly 11 years of my (rather uncoachable) yoga practice to get here. I kept attempting the pose the same way over and over again, thinking it would eventually work. I would beat myself up for struggling with it. As it turned out, allowing myself to be coached was the key, complete with landing on my head several times!
How about you? Could you be more coachable? Here are some questions to ask yourself to test your coachability:
- Do you get defensive or resistant when people offer suggestions or feedback?
- Do you beat yourself up unnecessarily when you make a mistake?
- Do you pretend to be open to helpful hints but then continue to do things the way you’ve always done them?
- Do you have a tendency to figure how to do something new on your own rather than ask for help or guidance?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you have an opportunity to become more coachable.
We are told all the time to fail early and often but rarely does our ego let us go there. It’s scary! Will people doublt our credibility? Will they still respect us? Will they give us another shot? If you’re willing to stay open and flexible, eager to grow, the ones that count will.
It’s when we fail or make a mistake and put ourselves in ego jail that we’re less desirable to work with. Think about it. When you're less open to feedback, people stop giving it as freely. Don't you feel uncomfortable giving feedback to people who reject it or defend themselves against it? As you can imagine, when we get less feedback, we lose the opportunity to grow and stretch.
Be willing to challenge your own resistance. Be approachable and receptive. Be a great listener. Have a willingness to learn from anyone and see possibility in other’s advice or perspective. Be curious, grateful, and appreciative of other’s suggestions - they are gifts being offered to you.
And most importantly of all, stay through the sting of any feedback. Like a woman in labor, the contraction is terribly uncomfortable for a time but it passes. Ultimately, those contractions lead to the birth of something new!
It’s never too late to choose to be coachable. Transforming from good to great is absolutely within your reach.
What do you want to choose now? What can you do in the next week to be more coachable and open to new ideas for greatness? Tell me in the comments below, and feel free to ask me for advice too!