“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.)