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. They are passionate about getting clarity on goals and the impact they want to make. When the going gets tough (and it often does get difficult to break old behavior patterns, particularly in high stress situations), coachable leaders have a clear “eye on the prize.” They have a clear purpose, a passion for learning and growth, or a set of values which are more important to them than all the internal resistance to change that comes up in the coaching process.
Coachable leaders practice curiosity. They practice getting curious about both their strengths as well as what can derail them. They are curious about how they impact others. They are hungry for feedback and really listen with an open mind. They lower their interest in “being right” and increase their interest in learning something new, even if that means challenging their self-concept.
Coachable leaders prioritize and take action. As senior leaders in organizations, we are 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, highly coachable leaders make their learning and growth a priority.
Coachable leaders practice accountability. Instead of blaming external circumstances or others for the result in any situation, coachable leaders are willing to notice their own part in the outcome.
Coachable leaders practice experimentation. The coaching process works only when leaders 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 eventually formed.
Coachable leaders practice reflection. In our fast-paced, always-on work environments, most of our leadership happens on auto-pilot. Just as most of us drive the same way to work, most of us lead by habit. Leaders who are learning agile build reflection time in their schedules. They slow down. They notice their impact in a new situation. They reflect and proactively choose their behavior rather than operating from habit. One of the seven practices of authentic and agile leaders from my book Wired for Authenticity is “Choose Be Before Do“. I recommend a mindfulness and journaling practice to each of my coaching clients because it has a demonstrated impact on their emotional intelligence and learning capacity.
Coachable leaders practice vulnerability. Essential to the success of a coaching process is when leaders can practice vulnerability (admit when they are wrong, ask for help when they need it, say “I’m sorry I messed up”, share their emotions in ways that create trust). They create greater trust in relationships and get greater influence and results.
Coachable leaders practice courage. Practicing new behaviors requires stepping outside of our comfort zone to accept some of the not-so-positive parts of ourselves, how they impact others, and how they can derail us. Courage is required to mend broken relationships, to have difficult conversations that are crucial to your impact. Coaching helps leaders learn how to overcome their fears “in the moment” and instead let values and sense of purpose and goals drive their behavior.
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 and agile leader in your organization, but that it helps you become a more inspired leader and human being in all of your important life goals.
Time for a self-assessment. Which of these eight practices do you already do well? Which do you want to focus on even more?
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.