Are You Coachable? Exploring the Growth Mindset

“I need to know that you are coachable before I accept you as a client.” I’ve read this a few times recently on the websites of coaches (and aspiring coaches) and wondered.

What could “coachable” mean? How would I know if I was, or wasn’t, coachable?

(For some of these “coaches”, “coachable” clearly means “doing what I tell you to”. Let’s ignore them, for the purpose of this article. They don’t fit my definition of “coaches”: they’re more “advisers” or perhaps “mentors”.)

Let’s assume, instead, that coaching is defined as: “A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.” (Anthony Grant, University of Sydney, 2000, quoted by Association for Coaching.) Given that, how could one person be more coachable than someone else?

I think I’ve found an answer in reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. Her academic research has been around for a good while, but her (very readable) book has helped me to understand its implications much more fully.

If you recall, Dweck found that people tended to adopt one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset or the growth mindset. The fixed mindset holds that human qualities are pretty much carved in stone; the growth mindset that they can be improved through effort.

Many people have different mindsets different contexts. Dweck says: “I might think that my artistic skills are fixed but that my intelligence can be developed. Or that my personality is fixed but my creativity can be developed. We’ve found that whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area.”

There’s a viral infographic that summarises the effect of the different mindsets. Where they hold a fixed mindset, the person will tend to avoid challenges, get defensive in the face of obstacles, make little effort, and reject feedback.

But where they hold a growth mindset, they will seek challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, learn from criticism and see effort as the path to mastery.

Which mindset would be most conducive to coaching? Clearly, someone holding a growth mindset in the area under consideration would be much more likely to be interested in the “enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth”.

Someone with a fixed mindset in that area would probably not seek out a coach, because they would tend to believe that nothing would make any difference. They were the way they were, and nothing would change that.

The fixed-mindset person would probably not seek out a coach. But they might be sent to one – by their boss, perhaps, or by their nearest and dearest. And they would probably get very poor results from coaching, and they’d probably count as “not coachable”.

But there’s a further twist. As Dweck points out, it’s very possible to change your mindset about a particular area of life – and then to realise you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. For example, I used to think my shyness/social incompetence was an unchangeable personality trait that condemned me to perpetual isolation. Now it’s not like that – but it’s taken a lot of practice to be able to socialise more comfortably, and I still struggle sometimes (with large crowds, for example).

Maybe someone who’s just moving from a fixed to a growth mindset in a particular area is the perfect coachee?

  • What do you think? Please comment below. (First-time posters’ comments need approval before they appear, purely as an anti-spam measure.)


6 thoughts on “Are You Coachable? Exploring the Growth Mindset”

  1. Hi Judy

    Lovely blog post that makes an important point. I think the challenge for coaches is to create a safe container where growth can occur safely. To do that requires excellent rapport, sensory acuity and pacing and leading.

    A common mistake as you point out is that coaches can get wrapped up in putting the ‘psychological contract’ in place first before working with clients. This can be sometimes complicated by clients who are not in place where they are motivated to change (i.e. they are happy where they are and often have secondary gain going on) or they’ve been coerced by others to ‘go and be fixed’.

    I sense it’s a blend of both a judgement call (i.e. assessing the client’s model of the world and motives for change) and coaching skill (i.e. creating the container for change)that determines the extent to which generative change and growth will occur. In every case it’s different and experience is a wonderful teacher.

    Best wishes,

    T: @paulhcrick

  2. David Sturman

    I would agree and here are my thoughts on why:

    As you have said Judy; even in a growth mindset a person may seek a coach to help with an area in their life in which they are fixed. In ways that makes them no different than a fixed person in the area of help? They could have sought out the coach because of a pattern in another area of their life that they’re a growth mindset and that pattern has leaked across to the fixed area.

    As such then as a coach it could be a good point of call to look for other areas of their life where they are not so fixed, channel those patterns and question the (potentially) limiting beliefs they hold on themselves.

  3. I’m drafting a course for mental health service users on achieving goals. And today, coincidentally, I’m at the bit about developing a growth mindset.

    So, it would be really useful if Judy and others could weigh in with some ideas about how a person may go about moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

    My starter for ten is:
    Make a list of things you have learned in life, which you didn’t know before.

    Help me out here! 🙂

  4. “Coachable” for me has echoes of “biddable” so I’m wary of it. Do we just mean someone who is not defending a fixed position? As soon as we open up to other possibilities then coaching can work. Encouraging the first steps, in getting out to talk to others and seeing a different point of view is a good way to kick that off. Growth Mindset is a great description of that state. A coach is there to empower and encourage that which is driven from within. Though they might assist, a coach should not impose. That’s why it’s so important for people to come to coaching when they are truly ready.

    Great post Judy, thanks.

  5. David Stuart

    “The most difficult thing is to escape from our position” Edward de Bono

    There’s a guy here in Melbourne, Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson who co-founded the School of Thinking with de Bono. Michael has some great Software for the Brain, as he calls it, which can help you escape and move from the current view of the situation to a better view of the situation (CVSTOBVS).

    Free download of his book at

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