INsight/ Are You Coachable?


Manila, 21 June 2017 — Discover what it means to be coachable, why it matters, and how some definitions have gotten it wrong.

Transformational coaching is one of the most powerful ways I know to bring out the best in other people. It is quite different from other helping styles like advising, training, facilitating, mentoring and counseling. Let's explore what it means.

Two styles of coaching

In coaching, we can broadly distinguish two styles.

First, there is transactional coaching, which is sometimes called autocratic coaching. We often see this style being used by sports coaches, who are highly directive in how they instruct and guide their athletes. 

In transactional coaching, there is a lot of telling and advising, rather than asking. Trainers and mentors also tend to be directive in their work.

Second, there is transformational coaching, which works with a different set of principles. Rather than seeing the people they coach as half-empty glasses, they see them as full glasses and look for ways to make them larger to hold even more water until they overflow.  

In transformational coaching, there are a lot of questions, and much less talking by the coach. Answering the questions unlocks and opens up new spaces in the people being coached, drawing out their abilities and commitment. 

Of these two styles, transformational coaching is a recent phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. It is now used by businesses around the world, as well as in individual life coaching.

In contrast, the directive style of transactional coaching is increasingly regarded as training and instruction. Many trainers, however, are still addressed by trainees as coach.

What does being coachable mean?

For the transactional style, being coachable generally means listening to follow instructions while showing discipline and respect for the authority of the coach. The paradigm here is about leaders having followers.

For the transformational style, being coachable means discovering how to lead change, assume more responsibility, and be accountable for delivering bigger results. The paradigm here is about leaders growing more leaders.

Of course, there are situations in life where directive instructions are needed. Think of the military, air traffic control, and in sports, for example.

By and large, however, definitions of coachable that stress your receptiveness to being taught and trained have gotten it wrong for the transformational changes that we need today.

Increasingly, our world cries out for more leaders at all levels, rather than more followers, hence we need to pay more attention to transformational coaching and transformational leadership.  

For many executives and managers today, to discover better ways to lead change in their business and world, they will need to start by making themselves vulnerable and willing to unlearn, with a beginner's mind. That is what is being coachable is about.

Emerging leaders generally have less to unlearn. For them, being coachable is the secret to achieving many or most of their dreams, according to Laura Probert (see below). I agree. It is one of the most important skills and attitudes in life.

When are people coachable?

Traditionally, as shown by research, people are more coachable when life and career transitions occur that are deeply unsettling and challenging, such as when a loved one leaves us, when we are confronted by difficult choices and certainties have dissolved into thin air, and when we encounter a difficult boss and find ourselves under great pressure to deliver or fail. These situations still occur, and still lead people to seek for coaching.


Increasingly, however, managers, professionals and emerging leaders are asking to be coached because they want to develop their leadership and make a bigger difference in their business and the world around them. As they embark on a journey of continuous learning, they choose to study more, embrace bigger challenges to help them grow, and use a coach to support them along the way. 

Laura Probert said it beautifully. "If you’re any kind of person who wishes to grow, learn, improve, excel or peak perform, you should care about whether or not you’re coachable."

Three Types of Transformational Coaching

In my experience, transformational coaching delivers a powerful result almost every time. With the trust that comes from working together in confidence, new possibilities are discovered and commitments are made that turn challenging goals into rewarding achievements.

Over the past years, I have grown passionate for three types of transformational coaching:

The first is with executives, to help them start unlearning with feedback to become better leaders. For them, a strong signal of being coachable will be to use a 360-degree assessment of current behaviors in the workplace, covering both empowering and derailing behaviors.

Research and experience show that many executives need to work on their so-called soft skills to become better leaders who can use a transformational coaching style when needed, including with their GenY managers and staff.  

The second is with emerging leaders, to help them start transforming into the leaders they can become. This involves engaging in programs where they combine learning new knowledge and skills with challenges to develop effective leadership behaviors, supported by feedback and support.

And the third is about career coaching to start remapping careers to live life by design. This involves an exploration of experiences, strengths, and opportunities to make better choices and avoid living someone else's life instead of your own.

For all three, the key to success is being coachable. 

If you’re any kind of person who wishes to grow, learn, improve, excel or peak perform, you should care about whether or not you’re coachable.
— Laura Probert