Learning to request, receive, and implement critical feedback.
Self-reflection and a desire for feedback are core attributes of a coachable person. Coachability is a person’s ability to seek, understand, and integrate feedback to improve their performance. To seek feedback is to proactively ask for it from a credible person (like a coach or manager). To understand feedback is to process it at both a conceptual and tactical level. To integrate feedback is to put it into practice. As it’s practiced and honed, coachability is a skill that grows many other skills. Michael Jordan speaks highly of the importance of being coachable: “My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.”
As a college basketball player, I was required to study my gameplay with the intent of improving my performance. This meant that Saturday mornings were dedicated to watching film from our games. At 8am, the assistant coaches and team captains wrangled the team into the locker room for an hour-long deep dive into our last game. These sessions were brutal. Compliments were sparse; we all felt the wrath of our coaches’ attention to detail. Every mistake was broken down frame-by-frame, often accompanied by a coach saying something to the effect of, “Are you kidding me? Why would you try to out-jump that guy for the rebound?” (I always fancied myself to be more athletic than I actually was). The pain was shared by everyone in the room.
The discipline of watching film stuck with me. Once I acclimated to the discomfort of being criticized, I began craving it. In my free time I began watching myself, my teammates, and my competitors – all in the hope of becoming a better player. Having a critical eye toward self-improvement became a huge differentiator. When I left college, the habit stuck with me. Basketball may no longer be my point of reflection, but “watching film” remains a critical part of my personal development.
Benefits of being coachable
You’ll learn stuff faster
Being open to and enjoying the receipt of feedback is the difference between joy and misery as new skills are adopted. The ability to seek advice and make adjustments stemming from it allows you to evolve much more quickly than by earning all the scar tissue yourself. Skill acquisition takes time. You may be naturally gifted at something, which allows you to perform at a passable level quickly. Alternatively, there are other skills that take you much longer to acquire compared to the average person. To accelerate skill acquisition, lean into guidance from others.
Your leader will think you’re a badass
My favorite employees are the ones who proactively seek guidance often, implement it, and come back for more. Not only do they outperform their peers, they’re also often great contributors to team culture. Good managers recognize that investing time and energy into their star performers makes them look great. Capitalize on your manager’s experience and position by striking up a coaching relationship with them.
You can help others learn
In team environments, strong leaders stand out by helping others improve. A positive outcome of being coachable is to share the lessons learned with peers who could also benefit from the information. Sharing information openly and transparently is a great way to create meaningful relationships that strengthen the team and establish your reputation as a competent leader.
How to know if you’re coachable
Becoming more coachable is simple; it just takes practice. There are five things a coachable person does incredibly well. Measure yourself on the following attributes to gauge yourself.
Do you proactively seek feedback?
You are responsible for your environment, behaviors, and outcomes. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to request feedback from the people who can provide meaningful insights. Waiting for your annual review to receive generic feedback from your manager isn’t the same thing as being coachable. Request one-on-ones, lunches, monthly reviews – whatever it takes to get a baseline indication for your performance that you can consistently weigh yourself against.
Do you take criticism personally?
When someone of credibility tells you you’re underperforming, how do you respond? Do you become defensive, or justify your reasoning? Being coachable doesn’t mean you have to use every piece of feedback you receive from people; it simply means you collect that information frequently and thoroughly so you can consider what changes to make for better outcomes. Next time you find yourself wanting to defend yourself against criticism, try to remain open and say things like, “Thanks for that advice. I’ll definitely consider that next time I’m in this position.” You’ll likely feel much better about the conversation.
Do you own your decision-making?
When you make a decision that goes poorly, how do you react to it? Many people will shift blame and offer reasons why it didn’t go as planned. Coachable people recognize their responsibility in the fault and aim to find ways they can prevent the same mistake from happening again. You can’t be coachable without taking ownership of your decisions.
Do you integrate what you learn?
Nothing is more frustrating to me than seeing someone squander an opportunity to grow. Complacency is a terrible pattern to which humans are drawn. The whole purpose of becoming coachable is to get better at something. If you don’t take action to apply the information in the real-world, what’s the point? Be an integrator. Learn lessons, test them, fail, and improve. That’s the name of the game.
Do you teach others?
A rising tide lifts all boats. Cliche? Maybe. Meaningful? Absolutely. Don’t be a hoarder of good advice. Share what you’ve learned with other people so they can benefit from your hard-earned lessons. This is literally why I write these essays. I want to share as much as I know with as many people as possible. I learn so much by writing and having conversations with readers about the subject matter.
Why coachability is rare
Coachability requires a degree of vulnerability and self-reflection of which most people aren’t comfortable subjecting themselves. It’s much easier to stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is going great than it is to look in the mirror. There are four primary reasons why people resist becoming coachable.
Fear of looking stupid
Nobody in the world likes to look stupid in front of others. It feels shitty. Unfortunately, the fear of this feeling is so strong for most people that they never make themselves vulnerable enough to receive criticism. They bury their mistakes and rationalize their behavior to avoid the pain of their flaws being seen by someone else.
Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten far more comfortable looking stupid in front of people I trust. This has allowed me to open up about more of my problems, which leads to quicker solutions. Simply getting past my fear of judgment from my mentors, bosses, and friends granted me room to become more coachable.
Fear of failure
It’s a lot easier to never start something than it is to fail at something you’ve been working on. You can’t fail at something you never committed to, right?
The implicit expectation of receiving coaching is that you change your behaviors to reflect the good advice you receive. If you never ask for guidance, there’s no expectation for you to change and you don’t have to worry about messing up the new approach. Many people would prefer to be average at something rather than stretch for excellence and fail because they’re scared of what that’ll do to their reputation.
Separating yourself from the pack is so easy. Go for it, and if you fail, pat yourself on the back for trying. Then do it again.
Ego is too big
If you always think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re screwed. People with big egos believe they know the answer to every problem, even in the face of contrary evidence. Coaching is lost on people with hyper-inflated egos. The feedback will either trigger push-back, or it’ll just go through one ear and out the other.
The humble person sees an opportunity to learn from everyone they encounter. This mentality leaves the opportunity for growth uncapped, while a big ego will always hold a talented person back. Check yourself: does your ego get in the way of your ability to learn? If so, cut that shit out.
Fear of change is often a cloak for stubbornness. My biggest pet peeve is hearing, “Well, I’ve always done it this way.” Just because something has been done a certain way in the past doesn’t automatically make it right in the future. Doing what’s familiar leads to familiar results; even if they’re not stellar, at least they’re expected. The only exception to this rule is Grandma’s cookies – those should never change.
Being performance-oriented means looking for areas to grow. It’s all about breaking old paradigms and establishing new, better ways of operating. Let yourself be open to new ways of doing things and don’t let your stubbornness interfere with something that may be incredibly beneficial for you.
Coachability is a non-negotiable part of high-performance learning. Doing research and watching YouTube videos doesn’t offer near the same value as learning from your own mistakes in real-time. As with athletes watching gameplay film, you should orient yourself to self-reflection and feedback from trusted people who care about your evolution. Shed your ego and fear of failure. Embrace both positive and critical feedback. Never get comfortable doing what’s average.
What is Beanie & Blazer?
Beanie & Blazer is a lifestyle engineering company built to align people’s personal values and goals with their habits and behaviors. Our methodology offers our community clarity of purpose, a tribe of mentors and supporters, and reclamation of time in their busy lives. We systematically train people to become high performers.
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