Are You Coachable? How Do You Know?

David Nour
David Nour

That’s one of my favorite questions, anytime I’m asked to explore a coaching relationship with a client. The answer is often less important than their demeanor in how they show up and respond! 


Even if I’m a brilliant coach (which happens to be true, by the way – just say’n…! 😉 LOL), if the person I’m trying to coach isn’t coachable, shouldn’t be coached, doesn’t want to, or feels needs to be coached, we’ll go nowhere! I tell clients, that’s a perfect recipe for a waste of my time and their money! 


In coaching over 60 leaders (and their teams) over the past eight years, I’ve developed a knack for uncovering the “uncoachable!” Here is a glimpse into many past conversations, where I’ve candidly recused myself from what appeared to be a lost cause:


He doesn’t have a problem…

Or at least he doesn’t he does!! He’s successful by all of his measures, has been doing the same thing for a while, and sees absolutely no reason to change. He’s fine and what he does, how he does it, and the dictatorship which he governs is just fine! If he doesn’t genuinely want to change, I’ve learned that it will be a complete waste of everyone’s time! I once met with a leader who had a 50% attrition rate on his team. He was belittling, never showed any gratitude for his team, legitimately thought that people were dispensable and he could always unplug one and plug in another one (often cheaper) and did not value his people, their efforts, or challenges. His team was begging for him to get some help. In our conversation, he told me that he was making great money, didn’t really see a problem, and had absolutely no interest in changing. No amount, degree of difficulty, or diligent investment in coaching him was going to make an ounce of difference. So, I politely said, “no, thanks!”


Her strategy is right…

Or at least she thinks it is! And regrettably, she’s surrounded herself with a lot of yes-people who will help her continue down the wrong path. If I choose to work with this person, all I’ll do is accelerate her journey off a cliff!


He’s exactly the right person for the job…

Or so, he thinks. Unfortunately, after a handful of conversations with his peers, superiors, or subordinates, it becomes abundantly clear that he’s the wrong person, in the wrong job, with the wrong priorities, in the wrong company! One of the questions I’ve learned to ask as a litmus test here, is “if the company got bought tomorrow and his/her role was eliminated, would he/she be over the moon excited, shocked, or sad?” If they’d be excited, they need to go now – why wait? Unhappy people who don’t want to be in a job aren’t going to want to change. I can’t coach someone to become more engaged, excited, or happier in what they’re doing! 

Everyone else is the problem…

So, they think! I’m always cautious when I’m asked to help “fix other people, so none of them get it, can’t do what I ask, or don’t show the same commitment to the outcomes I care about!” If a leader has a high percentage of employee churn, we can’t retain the right kinds of customers, high profile projects are consistently late, maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, maybe everyone else is not the problem! High profile employee departures, low morale, bosses who play favorites in compensation plans (and believe they’re right to do so), all are signs that I should politely recuse myself from that coaching engagement. Over the years, I’ve found it near impossible to try to help anyone who believes everyone else is the problem! 


I may be good at what I do. What I’m not is a superhero and I have zero interest in trying to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. You could say coaching is like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – it’s not for people who need the help. It’s for those who want the help and are committed to real change! Otherwise, you, me, and anyone else who tries to help will be wasting their time!


So, are you coachable?! How do you know? David Nour 

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