Coachability: A Core Leadership Competency in Today’s Rapidly-Changing Environment

Developing the future generation of leaders.

By The Coachability Consultants Team

Fast-paced, ever-changing, and unpredictable characterize the landscape of the current work environment.  A staggering 77% of HR professionals and leaders report their organization is in a constant state of change. 

As a result, goals, priorities and strategies continuously shift and evolve.  Organizational scholars describe the nature of this current work environment by the term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).  

When leaders embrace and embody coachability, they improve their ability to lead their teams through the current landscape.  As such, Coachability Consultants, in addition to many global HR and L&D leaders, view coachability as a core leadership competency across organizations and industries.

Given the turbulence currently experienced and expected to persist in the workplace (e.g., global pandemic, as a present example), organizations must equip leaders – and all employees – with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to effectively perform and lead in these circumstances. 

Unfortunately, this does not always happen.  Only 35% of leaders across industries (e.g., Financial Services, Pharma, Tech, Healthcare) effectively manage change and adapt to dynamic challenges.  

Furthermore, DDI’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast uncovered the top skill(s) organizations must elevate in their leaders: adapting to and managing change

Adapting to Change through Coachability 

 So, how can organizations foster and boost leaders’ ability to successfully manage change and adapt?

One key avenue: Elevate leaders’ coachability. 

Based on extensive empirical research, we define coachability as an individual’s willingness and ability to seek, be receptive to, and enact constructive feedback to drive individual development and improve performance.

At Coachability Consultants, we not only view coachability as an indispensable skill every employee and athlete must possess, but also as a core, fundamental leadership competency.  Akin to the commonly espoused competencies of building relationships and holding strong interpersonal skills, coachability serves as a foundational capability and differentiator that affects numerous other leadership competencies, such as coaching, influencing others, and, perhaps most relevant to our current reality, adapting to and leading change. 

Leading research demonstrates coachability strongly influences leaders’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  Adaptability involves rapidly modulating one’s behavior to adjust to novel internal organizational issues and external environmental factors.

So, how does coachability enhance adaptability?

First, understanding how to effectively change behavior to cope with these internal and external organizational demands requires that employees possess role, process, and goal clarity.

A greater understanding of one’s specific role and responsibilities, the process(es) best utilized for fulfilling those responsibilities, and the resulting impact on individual and team success allows individuals to perform more effectively across a variety of contexts (e.g., familiar and unfamiliar environments). 

Taken together, when leaders proactively seek feedback from a variety of sources, internalize this information, and subsequently leverage the feedback, it positions them to rapidly adjust behaviors, as a result of this increased clarity. 

In other words, proactively seeking feedback in a way that elicits the provision of high-quality, actionable information – rather than waiting for it to be provided – allows leaders to more quickly obtain the insights needed to pivot and adapt.  Of course, this rests on the assumption these leaders not only solicit feedback, but listen intently and enact the feedback to effectively modify behavior.

Managing Change through Coachability

While coachability enhances leaders’ ability to navigate change-bound contexts, it also improves their ability to successfully manage change within their respective teams.

Extensive research indicates highly effective leaders and coaches personalize learning, coaching, and development to fit the specific individuals they lead.  During times of change, impactful leaders generate buy-in and maintain commitment in their teams through involving them in the change effort, providing rationale while remaining open to others’ ideas, and addressing emotional reactions to change. 

However, not all employees respond to the same style of change leadership. 

As such, it’s incumbent upon leaders to uncover and understand how to effectively engage and motivate the various, unique individuals they lead.  This allows leaders to manage change and ensure motivated buy-in within their teams.  

This requires coachability. 

Individuals on teams vary in their reactions to change from both a practical and personal standpoint.  They experience distinctive barriers and emotions, which ultimately result in different levels and sources of resistance to change.  Leaders who genuinely seek to understand the differing needs and sources of resistance of individuals on their team, demonstrate an openness to the spectrum of these reactions and needs, and take steps to address these areas are the leaders who will most successfully manage change.

Asking for input, internalizing this information — rather than getting defensive to or discounting it, and ultimately incorporating feedback by tailoring one’s change leadership approach epitomizes coachability. 

In turn, this allows leaders to more effectively manage change as well as facilitate the development of the unique individuals on their team.  As a result, leaders maximize their impact and influence on those they lead, enabling them to thrive even during disruptive circumstances or in unfamiliar contexts.  

At the same time, leaders who model coachability begin to lay the foundation for a culture that establishes expectations through actions (i.e., coachability is how we drive development as part of this team and organization) — and enhances change capabilities across the team. 

Conclusion

Coachability must serve as a core, foundational leadership competency — and comprise an integral feature of leadership development, high-potential, and emerging leader programs.  By focusing on this core competency, organizations will more efficiently and effectively develop current and future generations of leaders who can manage and lead through change, as well as build and sustain strong and productive cultures.

For more information about leveraging coachability to develop effective leaders and build a strong talent bench, contact us.

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