Growing up, I played Little League baseball and football. Picture a bunch of 10 year olds on the field trying their hardest to look like they know what they are doing without betraying the underlying confusion they often feel. My coaches were usually my friend’s parents or someone else from my neighborhood. I didn’t really think much of it at the time but I learned a few things during those days that are relevant in my business life. Remember, this is in elementary school so it is reminiscent of the New York Times Best Seller “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten”. The particular learning I want to focus on here is the question “How coachable are you?” I distinctly remember coming back from a particularly rough Little League baseball game (rough for a 10-year-old anyway) and feeling pretty down about my performance. I played a couple of different positions but at this particular time I was a pitcher and, to put it frankly, I choked. This was a problem I often had. If I came in as a relief pitcher for someone else who was not doing so well I would do fine. On the other hand, if I started the game and it went well for a while I would often tense up and simply choke (we now understand a lot about why we choke, if you are interested see: http://gladwell.com/the-art-of-failure/). After this particular game, my coach (Mr. Wittman; my buddy Tim’s Dad) said something to my Mom about me being one of the most coachable kids he had worked with (he was usually yelling at us, deservedly so, thus this was high praise!). His coachable comment was in the context of something like “don’t worry, Jeff will get past this choking problem. He is very coachable”. So over the years my Mom, as mom’s everywhere tend to do, brings up this nice complement from my coach periodically, always making me feel good to know the I was a very coachable kid (I try not to think about the choking part!).
When I look back on this and think about how this relates to my business life, a couple of things come to mind. The first and most important is that, as a manager, one of THE MOST VALUABLE TRAITS which I look for in an employee is how coachable they are. Can they hear a suggestion or even a criticism and accept it, internalize it and use it to modify their behavior. This also implies that an employee can really listen to what a project manager needs and then deliver on it. It is being open all the time to colleagues’ opinions of how you can improve. Which brings me to the next most important relationship between your coachability and business life; how quickly you can learn. As I have written elsewhere in this blog and presented during graduation speeches, continuous learning is the hallmark of a successful career. Your formal education is just a platform and process for learning, not an end on its own. (As Newton D. Baker said, with slight paraphrasing: “The person who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” http://izquotes.com/quote/290235). The more coachable you are, the more open you will be to learning and the more successful you will be throughout your career. You will have a focus on self-improvement and self-awareness; both important aspects of leadership. Finally, if you develop a mindset of being coachable, you will have a mindset of teamwork which, as we have heard constantly from our industrial advisors, is critical in today’s business world. The coaching ethos implies a culture of teamwork surrounding and supporting the coach-employee relationship.
In summary, be coachable. It is a skill and attitude you can develop.