If you ask the average startup founder “Are you coachable?”, you will get a resounding, “Yes, of course I am!” The problem is often that the definition of being coachable may vary from person to person.
Can you take customer feedback without feeling like someone called your baby ugly? How quickly do you respond to customer or investor feedback, and are you defensive or accepting of constructive criticism? Let’s look at a few of the factors that make a person coachable.
Just a word of advice before we go any further. First, being humble does not mean being meek or quiet or letting people run you over. If the title of your new book is “My Humility: How I Got It, and How You, Too, Can Get Yours” you are probably not humble. You don’t have to tell people who are humble, they just know by how you react in given situations.
Humility means some key things:
- You ask for help when you need it.
- You don’t try to “go it on your own” and figure things out without help.
- You acknowledge your shortcomings.
- You own your mistakes.
To be coachable, you must be humble enough to say, “I don’t know it all. I have a lot to learn. Thank you for helping me get better at what I do.”
To be coachable, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. You have to have grit and perseverance regardless of how smooth or rough things can get. Keep your commitments to finish, to follow through, and to get the job done no matter what.
You can never get better if you quit. So to be coachable, you can’t quit. You can pivot, but you can’t stop.
We all have things we are experts at, areas where we do okay, and lanes we have no business driving in. Self-awareness means knowing where your lane is, how to stay in it, and when you are out of your depth.
But it’s about more than that. How do your actions affect others, both good and bad? And again, how do you react to negative feedback. Do you understand that in most cases, this feedback is not meant to be personal.
Being aware of who you are, what you are good at, and accepting feedback about where you can improve and even where you have no business operating are all keys to being coachable.
Willingness to Learn
This can’t be stressed enough. Not only do you need to be willing to accept feedback that is both positive and negative, but you need to be willing to learn something new. This is a part of both humility and commitment. “I don’t know it all, I have shortcomings, and I am willing to learn.”
Part of a willingness to learn is also tied to self-awareness. Let’s look at a non-business example, but one that might someday be important again. Let’s say you love to sing. You sing in the shower, in your car, everywhere you can when you are alone. However, there is a karaoke night with your team, and you want to impress them with your vocal acumen.
If you enlist a vocal instructor, you may be able to improve your singing to a karaoke level if you are coachable and teachable and you have at least some minimal ability. However, if you are tone deaf or otherwise unable to harmonize and “hear” music, you may not be a fit for karaoke.
This does not mean you should not try to learn to sing. It means that when you discover your shortcomings, you realize you may never learn well enough to sing on Friday night without severe embarrassment.
Willingness to learn is willingness to try. Humility and self-awareness are about knowing that a willingness to learn does not always guarantee success.
Belief in Others
The final piece of the puzzle? If you are going to be coachable, you need to surround yourself with a team you believe in. These are the people who will pick up your slack, strengthen your company or you where you are weak or even in those lanes where you do not belong.
Being coachable means trusting your team to take action on your behalf, to make autonomous decisions, and to know that you have their back. You want others around you who are also coachable, so you can hold each other accountable.
They, too, need to be humble, committed, self-aware, and willing to learn. You need to believe in each other as a group, and you need develop and nurture trust.
Perhaps one of the most important things investors look for is someone who is coachable, and many will do as much due diligence in looking at you and who you are as they do looking into your company. They are trusting you with their money and with their interests in the future. A business owner who is not coachable is less likely to succeed, and investors know it.
Founders know it too, on an intellectual level. But as you embark on starting your business, be sure you know what being coachable really means. It can make all the difference.