In my executive coaching work, one of the most important traits that differentiates high potential leaders is their learning agility. In succession planning discussions, organizations identify leaders who are learning agile because these people quickly learn how to be effective in new and different situations.

Organizations hire executive coaches to prepare these leaders for challenging and stretch assignments. Based on my work with these executives, I have distilled eight practices that differentiate the coaching clients who made the greatest gains vs. those that did not. Whether you are being coached by your manager or by an executive coach, these practices will make the difference in your learning agility and impact. 


Coachable leaders create a clear vision for themselves and their impact. As a coachable leader, you are passionate about getting clarity on important goals. When the going gets tough (and it often does get difficult to break old behavior patterns, particularly in high stress situations), you have a clear “eye on the prize.” You are willing to discover a clear purpose, a passion for growth, or a set of values that are more important to you than all the internal resistance to change that comes up in the coaching process.

Coachable leaders practice curiosity. You practice getting curious about both your strengths as well as what can derail you. You are curious about how you impact others. You are hungry for feedback and listen with an open mind. You lower their interest in “being right” and increase your interest in learning something new, even if that means challenging your self-concept.

Coachable leaders prioritize and take action. As a senior leader, you are often pulled in lots of urgent and important directions. The people who get the most out of a coaching process are willing to commit to the “work.” The work includes making time for the coaching sessions and following through on the commitments made in each session. Whether that work is to experiment with new behaviors, or to have difficult conversations, you make your learning and growth a priority.

Coachable leaders practice accountability. Instead of blaming external circumstances or others for the result in any situation, you are willing to notice your own part in the outcome, and take responsibility for it.

Coachable leaders practice experimentation. The coaching process works only when you are willing to experiment with new attitudes and behaviors. From this experimentation, new learning occurs, new neural pathways are established in the brain, and new leadership habits are established.

Coachable leaders practice reflection. In our fast-paced, always-on work environments, most of us are on auto-pilot. Coaching requires you to build reflection time in your schedule. You slow down. You notice your impact. You reflect and proactively choose your behavior rather than operating from habit. I recommend a mindfulness and journaling practice to each of my coaching clients because these practices have a demonstrable impact on emotional intelligence and learning capacity.

Coachable leaders practice vulnerability. Essential to the success of a coaching process is when you can practice vulnerability (admit when you are wrong, ask for help or feedback, say “I’m sorry I messed up,” share your emotions in ways that create trust). As a result, you create greater trust in relationships, achieve greater influence, and get results. Vulnerability is essential to building a stakeholder network within the organization to help you achieve your coaching goals. This stakeholder network can quickly create advocacy and partnership for your success & growth.

Coachable leaders practice courage. Practicing new behaviors requires that you step outside your comfort zone and accept some of the not-so-positive parts of yourself, how they impact others, and how they can derail performance. Courage is required to mend broken relationships and to have difficult conversations that are crucial to your impact. Coaching helps you learn how to overcome fears and instead choose values, purpose, and commitment to goals to drive behavior.

Over the course of a coaching engagement, as you practice the above, you notice yourself becoming a more authentic and trusted leader who inspires and engages others, as well as a leader who has an expanded set of leadership tools to help you be more agile in changing situations.

As an executive coach, my greatest aspiration for you is that the executive coaching process doesn’t just help you reach your goals and make you a more effective leader in your organization, but that it helps you become a more inspired leader and human being in all of your important life goals and relationships.


Time for a self-assessment. Which of these eight practices do you already do well? Which do you want to focus on even more? Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself and rate your readiness.

How Committed Are You to Executive Coaching? A Self-Assessment

The assessment below is a quick tool to help you assess whether you are ready to engage in an executive coaching process. Please give yourself a rating of 1-5 where 1 is Strongly Agree and 5 is Strongly Disagree and 3 is Neither Agree nor Disagree. When done, you can review the results with your potential coach or HR to discuss questions or areas of concern.

  1. I am committed to discovering what will make me a better leader, and motivated to shift my own behaviors to help me to achieve my goals. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to learning more about my strengths and blind spots that can derail my performance. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to letting my guard down, sharing my challenges, thoughts, and feelings with the executive coach I choose. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to making the time for each coaching session, time for self-reflection, and to follow-through on what I committed to in each coaching session. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to engaging stakeholders (boss, peers, direct reports) for 360-feedback, and/or engaging them in other ways to help me achieve my coaching goals. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to being open to new ways of thinking and experiment with new behaviors that may help me to be more effective in reaching my goals. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to learning and practicing courage and vulnerability to have conversations that may be difficult. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to taking accountability for driving the coaching agenda and the outcomes. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to taking responsibility for how my behaviors may be impacting outcomes rather than blaming others. Rating: ___
  1. I am committed to giving feedback to my executive coach and/or stakeholders when I am stuck or the process is not working for me. Rating: ___

A version of this article first appeared in my Forbes Leadership blog. If you are part of an organization that hires executive coaches, reach out to me for the “Tool-Kit for Executive Coaching Impact“. It helps HR leaders optimize the impact of their executive coaching program.