Coachability Index

Not all of my coaching engagements were successful, and in retrospect, it was my own mistake to not check for coachability before engaging - and also, not reinforcing or contemplating the absence of coachability factors. This article will make it easier for you, both as coach or coachee, to understand how personal attitude contributes to coaching success.

"Coaching is a gift for growth. You can't force people to take a gift against their will."

As agile coaches, we deal with people. People who have a unique personality. This uniqueness is what makes us special, what gives us the place in society we hold. In some cases, our personality is helping us - in others, it is our constraint. Every personality deserves respect, although some personalities benefit more from coaching than others.

Let us look at six character traits that increase or decrease the likelihood of benefitting from coaching. Notice that this article is not about success as a coach - it is about the coachee's success!


How open is the coachee to talk about themselves and their situation? Do they reveal when they're stuck or experience setbacks? Coaching is limited towards what the coachee is willing to reveal and work on - any area closed to coaching remains out of scope for coaching improvement. The ethical coach will build a sphere of trust for the coachee to enter into - the step of opening themselves remains up to the coachee.


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Reveals personal perspective
and perception
Constantly insists, "This is not relevant"
Explores context and backgroundOver-Focussing on single points
Puts themselves into the center Doesn't talk about themselves

Impact on Coaching

  • When there's strong openness, the bond between coachee and coach allows the coach to explore further
  • When there's little openness, most coaching discussions will avoid the real issue. 
  • When there's closedness, even the coach may be led off track by the coachee.

My advice

People have reasons for being closed. These may be beyond the coach's ability to influence. A coach can not work with a person who won't open up, that's why it is important to be able to withdraw from coaching when this situation can't be remedied.


Coaching is a gift to help others grow. A gift not received is waste. Part of coaching is that the coachee needs to be willing to receive criticism, feedback and even pushback. The coach is just one of many people to offer feedback and may occasionally criticize the coachee on their progress. If the coachee ignores such input, soft-cooking or even justifying their current stance, coaching efforts will evaporate.


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Actively solicits feedbackThinks they are in a position
to give, but not receive feedback
Mentions feedback or criticism
they have received
Blames people who criticize the coachee
Inquires the reasons for criticismQuestions the motives of any criticism
Accepts any feedback
as an opportunity
Brushes off feedback

Impact on Coaching

  • When there's strong receptiveness, there's a big window of opportunity for meaningful change.
  • When there's weak receptiveness, most coaching discussions will avoid the real issue. 
  • When the coachee is rejective, coaching might be considered a threat rather than an opportunity.

My advice

Many people have un-learned this kind of listening, especially people in strong blame-oriented hierarchies. Find ways to go "beyond blame" and beyond deflection - or you might as well end the coaching.


We don't live in a vacuum. Our mere existence affects those around us - be it in action, inaction, word or silence. We can't "not communicate", and every communication has an impact. How aware is your coachee of their impact on their environment? Do they put effort into understanding the consequences of their words and deeds?


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Cautious of their effect on othersThinks it's always "the others"
Understands that even staying silent has an effect"Not criticizing is already enough praise"
Expresses approval of positive eventsFinds reasons to criticize even positive events
Realizes how their behaviour affects othersWillfully oblivious to existing feedback loops

Impact on Coaching

  • When there's high awareness, the coachee can benefit tremendously from active feedback.
  • When there's low awareness, some consequences of change may escape the coachee.
  • When there's obliviousness, the coachee has no mirror to look into.

My advice

Almost everyone is born with a good amount of awareness, some even with too much. Many have been conditioned to reduce their own awareness. In many cases, the position or communication structure of an organization offers an advantage to people who reduce their awareness. Building sufficient awareness is often a precursor to specific coaching on special topics, such as agile mindset and behaviour.
Too much self-awareness can lead to "analysis paralysis". In that case, it's important to encourage experimentation with feedback and understanding trial and error as an opportunity.


There's more than one way to see things. Everyone has their perspective - but can we change it? Limiting ourselves to one single perspective may blind us to reality. A change of perspective allows us to consider different viewpoints, ideas and even conflicting information - and integrate the useful bits with our own for new opportunities.


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Asks, "How do you see this?"Excessive use of terms like, "No" or "But"
Invests time to learn about
different perspectives
Dismisses others' perspectives as flawed
Receives different, even
disagreeing sources of information
Reduces information intake to single channels

Impact on Coaching

  • When the coachee is well able to integrate new perspectives, there will be a broad field for coaching
  • When the coachee prefers to maintain a limited perspective, growth potential is equally limited.
  • When the coachee actively rejects any perspective other than their own, there will be no significant change.

My advice

People who take a limited perspective choose to restrict their world view. As Einstein said, "Problems can not be solved from the same level of consciousness as they were created." - when you can't reach a different level of consciousness, that's the end of meaningful change already.


"Let's cut beyond the talk and get down to business: How am I contributing to the problem? What should I change? With whom should I talk? How do I know I'm making progess?"
Cut beyond the smalltalk. Actions speak louder than words. As coach, you don't need the coachee to assure you of anything - the coachee is both the driver and beneficiary of change.


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Gets down to the core of the issueBeating around the bush
Assumes personal responsibilityMakes excuses
Feels personally accountableDeflects from issues
Has an action planConstantly winging it
Decides, Acts, ReflectsIndecisive
Tracks own progressInactive

Impact on Coaching

  • When there's graveness, change can be fast and usually effective.
  • When the coachee is overly relaxed, results may be considered optional.
  • When coaching is considered a laughing stock, this will become self-fulfilling prophesy.

My advice

When people aren't serious about making a change, they might have reservations. Do they not see how they benefit from more agility or don't they see how their contribution makes a difference?
Not all people want coaching. Respect that. Make the issue transparent and offer quick closure.


The coachee has to be committed to grow as a person in whatever dimension they want to be coached in. As coaching is a guidance on another's journey, when we push or drag the coachee, little good will come out of it.


Positive IndicatorNegative Indicator
Has a goal to improve towardsIsn't interested in defining personal goals
Discontent with status quoFeels that everything is okay
Sees setbacks as learning opportunity Blames external factors for setbacks
Strives to overcome shortcomingsDoesn't learn from failure
Trying and StrugglingReassurance without action

Impact on Coaching

  • When there's strong growth commitment, you can lead meaningful discussions about "Why" and "How" that may lead to significant change.
  • When there's weak commitment, the translation of coaching into results will be low. 
  • When there's explicit uncommitment, there's a high risk that the coach will just be the next person on a long list of people the coachee isn't happy with.

My advice

When you see a lack of commitment, start the conversation right there. Unless the situation can be improved, coaching will be a waste of everyone's time.

All in all

The "perfect coachee" would be strong in all six dimensions. I have worked with such people, In each such case, it's a pleasure and an honour to serve them as a coach.

Normal coachees aren't perfect in the above sense. Nobody would expect them to be. If someone is weak on a handful of factors, this could be a great for a conversation. In some cases, this can be boosted just by making the issue transparent and offering solid reasons for change.
In other cases, the coaching itself will be restricted or impedited by the missing factors.

And some people just aren't for coaching. I have made the mistake of trying to "convert" them in the past. That caused frustration on both sides. As coach, it's good to be clear why we're there and how our coachees can benefit from coaching. If that isn't received, offer coachee to opt out - leaving the door open to resume later.

And finally - don't coach people against their will. That always ends up with bruises.

All of this applies equally when coaching individuals, teams or entire organizations - as teams and individuals are composed of multiple individuals.

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