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Coach Only the Coachable

October 30, 2019
Mentor and Coach

Smartest Person in the Room:

Carol Dweck discusses “Fixed Mindset” versus “Growth Mindset” in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. I find her definitions and description of the people who have one or the other mindset to be very useful in my professional and personal life. As usual, things with human beings are complicated. Most of us have some of both mindsets depending on what’s in front of us.

A person with a fixed mindset often believes they are the smartest person in the room. They figure they have all they will ever have by way of intelligence or knowledge and that there’s no further growth possible. Sometimes, that translates to them seeking out groups where they can be the smartest person in the room.

A fixed mindset person is not coachable. It’s a waste of time to try. They may be very reasonable in their attitude, but in the end, they will not embrace the idea that they have something to learn. If they fail at a task, they blame someone or something else and give up.

Wrong Room

Growth mindset people specifically look for rooms where they are not the smartest person. They believe in the saying, “if I am are the smartest person in the room, then I am in the wrong room!” They want to learn more. If they fail at a task, they immediately assume that they either must try harder or learn something new, or both to be successful.

Don’t misunderstand, many growth mindset people love to help and share their knowledge. They tend to be life-long learners, as well as being ready to help as needed.

Internal Coaching

I believe that it is a leader’s responsibility to develop other leaders. And, I’ve often heard my coaching colleagues point out that “coaching without permission is abuse.” Thus, even when it is my responsibility to help bring my employees along on the leadership path, I must have their permission to mentor and coach.

It is also my responsibility to use my own time wisely and coach only those who are coachable. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out who those people are!

Coaching is Personal

A good coach understands that she is not necessarily the right coach for every person. Choosing a coach is very personal.

Mercy Jimenez, senior vice president of the National Business Center at Fannie Mae, has participated in several coaching arrangements funded by her organization with the aim of developing her skills and increasing the value of her on-the-job contributions. In selecting a coach, she has learned to insist on a personal affinity: “You’re going to divulge personal facts and points of view that are very private,” she says. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing that with a particular coach, you’ll hold back—and then the coach won’t be able to help you.”

HBR, Getting More from Executive Coaching, by Lauren Keller Johnson, 2007

Last Words

Great leaders develop other leaders. As well as themselves. They carefully choose the employees they will spend time mentoring or coaching. They quickly determine who is uncoachable—either because that person is of a fixed mindset or because they are not a match to the coach’s personality or skillset.

Great leaders also seek their own coaches. I was delighted to learn, some time ago, that during the time he was leading the turnaround at Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally had his own Executive Coach. Mr. Mulally was definitely at the top of his game, yet he still realized he could continue to learn and grow.

Good coaches must also have a growth mindset. My experience is that I learn a great deal from many of my coaching clients and sessions. That continued personal growth is a significant part of why I love executive coaching.

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