If you’ve ever been asked if you’re “coachable” in a job interview – or by an investor if you’re an entrepreneur seeking funding – it may have made you uncomfortable, but at least they were being upfront.
You have achieved what you have so far by being smart, skilled, confident, strong, and persistent, yet, we can all improve in something.
The truth is, most hiring managers (for any level role) are probably sizing up how coachable you are in your job interview, and so are potential investors in your startup. They just might not admit it openly. Some might do so through the questions they ask you or how they disagree with you about something.
Being coachable is not blindly agreeing to everything they say. It’s also, unfortunately, in the eye of the beholder. You may think you’re coachable, but they might not.
So, how can you tell if you are coachable – and show the folks you want to hire or invest in you that you are?
Here are insights on what they look for as “coachable”:
1. “Self-awareness is king”: That’s how Mary Lee Gannon, CEO of a healthcare foundation and an executive coach summed it up in an email to me. How do you sound to other people? How do your words – spoken or written – land with other people? How do other people respond to you? Do you keep your word? Some of Gannon’s super-skilled coaching clients get stuck, “because their communications skills don’t match with their technical and academic skills, resulting in stalled careers, colleagues not listening to their advice, and depleting effectiveness.” Body language matters too. Self-awareness does not come naturally; you have to develop it deliberately.
2. Being coachable takes focus: “Coachability is not tied to whether you are female or male. It is tied to whether or not you have the ability to see yourself from a third-party perspective and have the desire to release what doesn’t serve you and develop practices that will,” Gannon said.
3. Being coachable means realizing what got you here is not going to move you forward: Your ability to perform professionally at a high level is what got you this far. Great. But being coachable means you know you need to evolve as your roles and levels do – or as your startup evolves. “I have a lot of clients from Silicon Valley who are infinitely skilled – both women and men. Because of their esteemed background and training they are highly respected,” Gannon explained. [Yet sometimes they have]…”stalled careers, colleagues not listening to their advice, and depleting effectiveness.” As a result, “(o)ften, they feel they need to change jobs and then find the same results in a new role. Change is not the answer…. What got them here will not move them forward.”
4. Being coachable is being able to “self-manage”: “they need to be “ready to look internally at how to self-manage instead of relying on their work ethic and expertise as they have in the past.”
5. It’s about being “humbly confident”: Being “humbly confident” is being confident in your skills, knowledge, expertise and instincts, while also being completely aware that there is much you do not know. This is what a hiring manager, recruiter or investor is looking for.
6. Listen to your self-talk and mind chatter: If you’re annoyed with the hiring manager, recruiter or investor during the interview, chances are that your tone of voice will show it, unconsciously. If you remember that everyone deserves respect, your tone will reflect that too. Self-awareness includes hearing your own mind chatter.
7. Being coachable is being able to absorb feedback: We all like to think we take feedback well. But. We. Don’t. When people give you feedback, do you sound defensive? Paul Nolde, an investor in startups at Riverflow Venture Capital, said that he listens for ”how defensive the entrepreneur gets when I pushback…with a sound rationale.” Then he added, “Coachability is less about teaching and more about how you respond to further inquiry.”
8. An interview or pitch is about “behavior projections”: If you’re in a job interview, or pitching your startup for funding, they are evaluating your behavior, what another investor described as “behavior projections like financial projections.” He said they’re looking for your ability “to keep communications open, having a sharing relationship.” That relationship could be with colleagues, bosses, or customers.
9. Be aware of your “baggage”: Everyone comes to any job or relationship with our past experiences and those experiences created mental and emotional muscle memories. Those memories can get triggered randomly, by a word, or scenario. Women have historically been told they are “too aggressive,” or “too pushy,” or “too much,” so may bristle at related “feedback,” for example. Men have historically been told that vulnerability is a weakness, so they may resist being told to be more “open” or to “share” more about themselves. Know thyself.
It’s about being curious and wanting to grow. Curious does not mean you need to accept everything they say as the truth. If you disagree, inquire further, such as with “tell me how you got there.”
It’s also about being aware of the relationship and power structure. If you’re working with a career or executive coach, you’ll want to disclose more, be more fully vulnerable, so they can help you. That’s why you are paying them. If you’re being “coached” – or mentored – by a boss, superior or investor, you’ll definitely want to be open and vulnerable so they can help you too, but remember they are paying you and you want them to advocate for your professionally, so do it differently.
Listen to my previous interview with Mary Lee Gannon on my podcast here.