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The Seven Habits of Highly Un/Coachable People

Are you coachable? What does that even mean? In real life, nobody’s 100% this or that. Still, it can be helpful to examine the ends of a spectrum, simply for the purpose of increasing our awareness. In that spirit, join me for this study in caricatures, exploring seven habits, beliefs, or ways of being that render us more or less coachable in any given moment.

So what makes a person un/coachable?

#1) Certainty vs. Ambiguity

Conviction and resolve can be great qualities. There’s definitely a time and a place for both. But when we already know what’s true, there’s also nothing left to examine. Without a sense of wonder and curiosity, there’s no room for exploration, experimentation, discovery and growth. In other words, there’s no reason for coaching.

Coachable people (that’s us, you and me, on our best days) recognize that the more they learn, the less they know. They are humble and understand the futility of seeking absolute Truths. Instead, they embrace ambiguity, uncertainty, the yin and the yang of existence. Most important of all, they’re able to view themselves as “unbaked”, potential, indeterminate, unfolding and ever-expanding.

#2) Expert vs. Beginner’s Mindset

Experts, by definition, know what’s best. And we rely upon experts regularly for specialized support: medical, legal, mechanical, spiritual, etc. But the expert mindset is an obstacle to coaching. It’s often used as a means of protection against low self-esteem. The expert mindset interprets input as a put down. “What? Don’t you think I already thought of that?” When we’re in that mindset, ideas and suggestion effectively take us down a notch, making us feel less-than, like a novice again.

To be coachable, we must be able to adopt a beginner’s mind. Coachable people can appreciate and find the nugget of value in every suggestion, even the most seemingly ridiculous. It’s often the crazy idea coming out of left field that, if met with an open mind, inspires the most valuable breakthrough when everything seems stuck or impossible.

#3) Entitlement vs. Gratitude

Granted, this world is not a fair place. That only seems to be getting worse. And some great leaders have made it their life’s mission to reverse that trend. But when, as individuals, we focus our attention on what’s fair, we lose sight of what’s possible, depleting our energy and reducing our options. Our lives become half empty, often leaving us feeling resentful and despairing.

Coachable people understand that comparison is the source of all suffering. They focus instead on what’s within their grasp, and how they can make a meaningful difference. They accept hardship even when others have it easy, feeling grateful for even their limited resources. And they leverage their gratitude, like bankers leverage capital, to create energy, optimism and the means to get busy on their next big step.

#4) Perfection vs. Practice

Much has been written on the topic of failure. Fail Fast, Fail Often has become the mantra of many Silicon Valley gurus. But despite all that encouragement, not everyone’s ego can withstand the psychological weight of failure (and not everyone’s environment accepts failure as an intrinsic part of the learning process.) Regardless of its source, if there’s undue pressure to succeed right away, coaching becomes nearly impossible.

Coachable people understand that expertise comes only through practice, and practice initially involves more “misses” than “hits.” And though some “misses” are painful, they’re often the only path to learning. Coachable people appreciate the value of creative experimentation and focused determination. Over time, they become increasingly resilient, which allows them to recover and glean valuable wisdom more rapidly and effortlessly with each new endeavor.

#5) Blame vs. Accountability

Everyone encounters obstacles and setbacks. Some of us even complain about them. But when we blame others for our problems, there’s a much bigger issue. Our bad experiences and frustrating outcomes are somehow disconnected from our own choices and behaviors. We become the protagonist in an endless Kafka novel. “If only those other people (or the universe) would change… then my problems would finally disappear.”

Coachable people are able to see themselves as the screenwriter, director, and actor in their own life’s movie. They take ownership, not because they’re “to blame”, but because it’s the most empowering position to assume. In fact, “blame” is rarely even a part of their vocabulary. People who take ownership and hold themselves accountable possess agency, making them the masters of their own destiny. They understand that it’s a mistake to assume the victim role. Doing so might offer temporary relief from the burden of responsibility, but it’s also a thief, robbing us of the power to affect change in our own lives.

#6) Intent vs. Impact

For most of us, it’s tough to hear critical feedback. And it’s only natural sometimes to feel defensive. Defending becomes a problem, however, when we focus entirely on our intent, and fail to acknowledge our impact. Defensiveness makes us almost impervious to feedback, and equally unable to offer an authentic apology. After all, what’s there to apologize for? We didn’t mean to hurt anybody!

Coachable people not only understand, but appreciate diversity. For them, it’s anything but “my way or the highway.” Instead, they’ve learned to expect that their words and their actions will be misinterpreted on occasion, and to apologize when the impact, however unintended, is negative. Turning it around, they also assume the best regarding other people’s intentions, and when it’s called for, they share their feedback vulnerably. The most coachable people don’t see good guys and bad guys, only differences that somehow must be navigated with compassion. It’s a choice they make – a philosophy of life that tends to serve the greatest good.

#7) Talking vs. Listening

During coaching sessions, my clients do most of the talking. That’s as it should be. But to be coachable, we must also be good listeners. People who talk compulsively, unconscious of their need to be heard, are bound to strain relationships and inhibit their own learning. Although they can be entertaining to some, especially new audience members, they become impatient and distracted whenever others have the floor. They interrupt, but get offended when interrupted by others. Sadly, they're more likely than most to complain, “people just don’t listen anymore.”

Coachable people don’t feel entitled to other people’s ears. They recognize that a person’s full attention is a gift that must be earned. They speak less and listen more. And because they’re less inclined to retell old stories, they slow down and listen even to themselves, often discovering things they didn’t know they knew. Coachable people rarely feel compelled to “talk over” others. They recognize the futility of speaking when others are unable or unwilling to listen. They also understand the value of building alignment through dialogue – a practice that requires slowing down and leaving space for silent reflection. They strive to understand with as much effort as they invest to be understood.

Summing It Up

Congrats! Anyone who invests this much time and energy in their own learning is well on their way. Still, life presents its challenges. There are certain times and places where I can feel utterly uncoachable. That means I’ll always have opportunities to improve – to build my awareness and refocus my intentions going forward. I hope you’ll join me. For in the final analysis, being coachable is what gives us the true keys to the kingdom: The courage and capacity to grow.


Coach Mark


If you’re not only feeling more coachable, but you're thinking about hiring a coach, I hope you’ll reach out. I’d be honored to support you. If you feel inspired to respond, leave a comment below.

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