Are You Coachable? Does it Matter?


How would your direct reports, peers, and boss rate you on this question – “Does this leader seek and respond to feedback?”

Their rating pinpoints your coachability. Your coachability correlates very strongly with your leadership effectiveness. In their new research paper, The New Leadership Frontier: Coachability, Joe Folkman, Jack Zenger, and Kevin Wilde found that this question most clearly delineated successful leaders from those heading for a career crash or derailment.

They report, “derailing leaders were rated 30% lower on this question, which enabled and expanded their blind spots with others. During the follow-up interviews, senior managers often noted that derailed leaders were simply not coachable. The boss saw the derailment coming, while the uncoachable leader was clueless.”


Are You Invested in Your Development?

Often a “dragon investor” on the Dragon’s Den TV show or a “shark investor” on Shark Tank will decide not to invest in a hopeful contestant’s company because the budding entrepreneur isn’t “coachable.” An article in Entrepreneur magazine on how to attract venture capital investors lists coachability as one of the key factors. Examples abound of professional athletes upping his or her game to elite levels by seeking out and acting on coaching advice.

As with a few dollars a day going into a savings account, learning and development is a way of life that accumulates little by little each day. Scottish author, Samuel Smiles, founded the modern self-help field with his 19th-century bestseller, Self Help. In it he writes, “(People) of business are accustomed to quote the maxim that ‘time is money’ — but it is more; the proper improvement of it is self-culture, self-improvement, and growth of character. An hour wasted daily on trifles or in indolence, would, if devoted to self-improvement, make an ignorant (person) wise in a few years, and employed in good works, would make his/her life fruitful, and death a harvest of worthy deeds. Fifteen minutes a day devoted to self-improvement will be felt at the end of the year.”


Coachability Matters

Drawing from Zenger Folkman’s large database of 360 assessments, a chart in The New Leadership Frontier: Coachability shows a massive difference between the least and the most highly rated leaders on coachability. The least coachable leaders had an overall leadership effectiveness in the bottom 10 percent. However, the most coachable leaders were rated in the 90th percentile of overall leadership effectiveness.

A second chart shows the impact of coachability on employee engagement. The least coachable leaders had engagement levels of their direct reports at just 26 percent. The most coachable leaders had 78 percent engagement levels.


Coachability Doesn’t Age Well and is Blinded by the Height

Zenger Folkman’s coaching index “identified two alarming trends. First, early in their careers, leaders are seen as very coachable rated — above the 70th percentile when they are 30 or younger. By age 40, this drops to the 50th percentile. Leaders continue to decline, and by age 55, they are at the 40th percentile. This occurs regardless of a leader’s level.”

The second alarming trend is how coachability declines as leaders move up the organization — from 86th percentile of supervisors to 50th percentile of senior leaders. They write, “a clear warning: your most coachable days may be behind you, and your coachability tomorrow will be lower than today unless you start behaving differently.”


Learning as a Phase of Life or Way of Life?

I was hired as an executive coach to try and save “Jordan,” a floundering senior leader. We started with a 360 assessment. His overall leadership effectiveness rating was abysmal — below the 5th percentile.

As we looked deeper at Jordan’s leadership assessment, it became clear he was “majoring in the minors” by getting caught in the details and losing sight of his senior leadership role to focus on the bigger strategic picture.

It turned out that Jordan’s fundamental problem was seeing an outcome rather than an ongoing process. He assumed once he had a diploma, certification, or new position, he could coast on his earlier learning efforts. This is the deadly trap of viewing learning or change as a phase of life rather than a way of life.

Jordan’s direct reports, peers, and boss rated his coachability rating at the 3rd percentile. As he and I struggled to build his personal development plan, he defended, excused, pointed at others, and wouldn’t face his feedback. Jordan wasn’t coachable. He lost his job a few months later.


What Defines a Coachable Leader?

Zenger Folkman provides this definition; “a coachable leader values self-improvement and operates consistently in a learning zone by applying the coachability practices of seek — respond — reflect — act.” These practices form ZF’s four-step coachability roadmap.

You can also watch a two-minute video about coachability and a tale of two leaders at Coach-ability: The Leadership Superpower.


Are You Above and Beyond Coaching?

Managers claim they value people in their organization. But how often and how well they seek to understand and learn from others tells the real tale. What often comes across is, “coaching is for less experienced or more junior leaders. I’ve now graduated beyond that.”

These managers create a team or organizational culture of smothering silence that kills their leadership and organization’s effectiveness. “That’s just their perception” is a common response to input that managers don’t agree with. “They’re not getting our message. We need to show them the reality of the situation,” they’ll often counter. Engagement and culture are something to be managed and changed rather than probed for underlying learning and improvement opportunities.

Zenger Folkman’s research shows that coachability leads to nine times higher leadership effectiveness and three times higher employee engagement.

Coachability clearly matters. How coachable are you? How do you know?

The post Are You Coachable? Does it Matter? appeared first on The Clemmer Group.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations. Check out for upcoming webinars and workshops.


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