Is Every Leader Coachable?

By Chris Ihrig

Coaching leaders is a common practice, but the results organizations see are inconsistent. Is there a way to know before investing in a coach whether a leader is coachable? Or, are leaders who don’t seem coachable simply not ready to begin in the same place as a leader who is deemed coachable?

Researchers looked at these questions and determined that leaders who benefit from coaching share certain characteristics. They found that individuals who experience more positive emotions, have an internal locus of control, and who have experienced post-traumatic growth following adversity benefit from coaching.

An internal locus of control is the belief that one’s thoughts, words, and actions influence the outcomes they achieve. It is one of the three most important factors that make someone resilient. Resilience is required for post-traumatic growth following adversity. Without resilience, individuals tend to get stuck and never recover or take years to recover from adversity. Adversity can include common events like divorce, being fired, or the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Should You Bother Trying to Coach a Leader without these Characteristics?

I believe it would be a mistake not to try. Every major factor required for resilience (an internal locus of control, healthy self-esteem, and optimism) can be learned. Someone who managed to make it into a leadership role who lacks these characteristics has something important to offer. It is much easier to be successful when you’re resilient. Someone who isn’t resilient who makes it into a leadership role could soar exponentially when they become resilient.

They aren’t uncoachable. The coaching process simply needs to begin by cultivating the traits that make someone coachable. It isn’t necessary to work on cultivating more positive emotions. In fact, attempting to do so before they develop an internal locus of control will probably irritate them. Resilience causes post-traumatic growth and the growth can occur even decades after an adversity. When someone shifts their mindset in ways that make them more resilient, it causes chain reactions that re-write their history because they begin perceiving it from a more empowered perspective.

For example, someone who still resents being laid off by an employer they wanted to stay with will see how the lay-off led to a better career path than they were on before. As long as they were resentful, they couldn’t see the silver lining. Once they see it, their resentment falls away. This leads to natural improvements in their emotions.

If you have a leader in need of coaching who isn’t responding well to your efforts, look at their underlying traits and begin in an earlier place. The results may delight you.