What makes some individuals more coachable than others? How come some are resistant to the idea of executive coaching while others thrive in their leadership abilities when under the direction of a coach?
Is there a stigma attached to executive coaching that creates a resistance? In my 20 years of experience in coaching individuals and conducting trainings, I have found that many individuals are hesitant to look at areas that need developing and strengthening, especially in their emotional intelligence, also referred to as soft skills. Just recently, an organization brought me in to coach two of their top VPs who needed to develop their emotional intelligence. One was open to my coaching and the other did not see a need for the coaching. I was brought in at a critical time because an ensuing conflict was developing between them to such a degree that one felt the other needed to leave the company.
One of the tools I use in executive coaching is the EQ-i 2.0 emotional intelligence assessment, which was administered to both VPs. Each scored relatively high in the decision making and stress management composites. However, they both needed to strengthen their emotional self-expression and interpersonal relationships–two of the 15 competencies on the assessment. As with many top performers, using self-expression as a way to develop and strengthen relationships is often lacking, as the focus is often on refining and improving technical expertise.
Technical expertise is not enough once someone has moved into a management role. In this situation, both VPs had moved up in the organization and needed help in managing both up and down. Setting out goals to strengthen their interpersonal skills would increase their leadership success in all aspects of the organization. During our work together, one was coachable, while the other was resistant and, at first, not coachable. Let us look at their cases. For ease, I will refer to the VPs as VP1 and VP2.
VP1 was an ineffective leader, as his style was rough and brusque, and he generally lacked in soft skills. He was aware of his approach and how his team was afraid of him. His skepticism was apparent at our first meeting, yet shifted when he realized that he could strengthen these areas and be a more effective and valued leader for his team and within the organization. He looked forward to our sessions and took on the challenges to step out of his known way of conduct and try some of the new skills we explored.
VP1 was coachable. He was
- Aware of the need to develop and strengthen new competencies
- Willing to step out of his comfort zone and try something different
- Intentional in our sessions and outside of our sessions
- Willing to build better relationships with his team through trust and using self-expression
- Willing to be vulnerable and transparent with me and his team
- Humble enough to know that he needed coaching
VP2 had a different issue. While effective with his team, the principals were uneasy around him because of his lack of transparency, as well as his unwillingness to sometimes “let his hair down.” During our first session, he was very professional, arrogant and unable to admit to a need for coaching. Most individuals do not want to be told that they need coaching, and in the case of VP2, he was confused as to the need. During our second and third sessions, he used the time to focus on how to handle letting an individual in his team go. While this can be a valuable coaching session, in this situation, it was a deflection from working on his emotional self-expression, which he needed to develop to build trust in his relationships. His resistance to the coaching was obvious. He was blind to the need to develop self-expression, building ease and trust and strengthening his relationships at work.
VP2 was not coachable. He lacked
- Self-awareness of the need to make changes
- Openness to developing new skills to improve his leadership and become more effective
- Willingness to open up and use self-expression to build trust
- Humbleness to admit that he needed to develop new skills
When someone is in coaching, I often suggest that they let their team know that they are working on making changes, be specific about the changes they are working on, and tell the team that sometimes they might fall back into their old pattern. Bringing this awareness to the team is useful so that, when you slip up, the team can understand rather than think, “You see, he hasn’t changed.” Being vulnerable invites your team into your process and encourages them to be open to see the changes you are making. VP1 took this to heart and was encouraged by the support he received from his team.
VP2 was initially closed-minded and hid behind his arrogant persona. He struggled with being open-minded to making changes to better fit into the organization’s culture. As such, the lack of trust grew, and he was ignorant of this ensuing problem. VP2 eventually found value in the coaching, both through experiencing the changes in VP1 and through feedback from his peers. As trust grew between us–which is paramount for coaching to be successful–VP2 was able to step out of his comfort zone and adapt the new skills we explored.
What can you do to be more coachable? I recommend taking the EQ-i 2.0 assessment to begin. Reflect upon your performance reviews. Is there a common theme to where you could improve? What is your reaction to the feedback? Do you brush it aside? To be coachable requires the ability to self-reflect, openness to feedback addressing a skill gap, and willingness to adopting new skills and strategies. Self-awareness is the first step. Having the intention to change a pattern of behavior is the second course of action. What is crucial is the willingness to step out of your comfort zone.