Are You Coachable?

March 16, 2022

The other day, I had an incredible experience. To set context, while I’m not a marathon runner, I do a fair bit of running for an older guy. Often, as I run day after day, my legs begin to feel the burden, become tight and sometimes even ache so much during the night that I’m restless and unable to sleep.

A few days ago, after waking up early from such a disturbed night of sleep, I decided that I’d go ahead and finish my daily run in the morning instead of waiting till the afternoon. We live in a gated community, and I typically use the road around the complex as my daily circuit. Per my usual practice, I stood outside our apartment building and began to stretch my legs to get ready. Since I run regularly, there’s an assortment of “friends” I see on my daily circuit. We don’t necessarily talk, but each day we wave to one another as I pass by. One gentleman I wave to is an older gentleman who walks twice a day. He’s always struck me as a quiet gentleman who largely keeps to himself. This particular morning, as I was stretching, I saw him doing his usual walk, waved a good morning and went back to my stretch.

I was fully bent over at the hips trying to stretch my legs when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I stood up to find the “quiet older gentleman” standing beside me saying something in Bengali. While I speak a good deal of Tamil and a pinch of Hindi, I could not understand a word of what he was saying. But it was clear from his body language that he was unhappy with how I was doing my stretch! Somewhere in those words had to be something akin to, “You’re not doing it right!” He proceeded to push my knees back to straighten them and then uttered something else in Bengali while demonstrating, stretching his hands over his head and bending forward to touch his toes.

I tried to mimic his example. His response? He reached over, grabbed my arms and pushed them together, all the while continuing his instruction in Bengali. Apparently, I was not doing that right either! We proceeded in this manner, back and forth with me politely trying to follow his example and him issuing some sort of correction often by physically manhandling my arms or legs. And then, after a few cycles, he smiled and was on his way.

To be honest, the intervention was timely. My legs were aching, and I’d had a disturbed night of sleep as a result. I was dreading trying to run that morning and agonising somewhat over how I was going to make it through. So, I decided why not give his technique a shot? And would you believe….it actually worked!!!

But that is where the rest of the context of the story comes in. In our gated community, I am fairly certain that I would rank first in terms of run volume. There’s a guy 6 years younger than me who runs almost as much as I do. And a young chap who is new to the complex. What that means with respect to my aged visitor is that I literally run circles around him every day!!

This whole story made me think of something important for all of us. So many of us talk about wanting to grow, but frequently we lack the humility to be teachable. In fairness, I am pretty certain that I may have politely ignored the old man’s advice 15 years ago. But older, and perhaps at least a small bit wiser, I decided I should give his suggestions a shot. In the process, I learned something from an unknown source of expertise that was of great value to me.

In executive coaching, one of the key parameters we evaluate when we consider taking on a new client is their “coachability.” What is coachability? Coachability is the idea that a client genuinely wants to grow. The honest truth is that many people who talk about growing only want the outcome, but they lack the humility to get there. The only way we will ever learn is to first be teachable.

In all fairness, when I reflect back on my own mindset from some years ago, I find that I was like that. I said that I wanted to grow, but what I actually wanted was for everyone to think I was the expert. In hindsight, I feel like I threw away a few decades of my life where I could have learned so much more – if I were only more teachable.

My experience that day reminded me that while we might be experts in many things, there is always something to learn, sometimes from the most unlikely source. Whether we gain that benefit depends on our heart. Are we teachable and willing to hear correction? Or are we too proud to receive it?

All of this makes me wonder….

What learning opportunities might you have missed because you were too proud to learn?

Rather than trying to prove what you know, what would happen if you re-calibrated your mindset to seek to be constantly teachable?

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