Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of folks as a church planting and church transformation coach. Some of the folks I’ve worked with have gone on to meet or exceed their goals. Others, however, either quit or remained stuck. In fact, in my experience, more have quit or remained stuck than have succeeded.

It didn’t take me long, however, to discern why so many failed. The fact is, many leaders (and leader wannabes) simply aren’t coachable. Instead of approaching their coaching experience as an opportunity to learn and grow, they come to coaching for affirmation of what they’re already doing. Some are arrogant know-it-alls who are unteachable, but the majority are good-hearted and well-intentioned women and men who need a pat on the back. However, both of these groups are untenable coachees—they refuse to be coached. Something about horses and water …

There’s not enough space in this article to extol the benefits of being coached, but I will say that leaders who are stuck, in a rut, or desire to excel need a coach (and a mentor, a spiritual guide/director, and accountability partner).

The most important attribute of a coachee, as you might expect, is coachability. If you don’t have a teachable/coachable spirit you’re wasting the time and efforts of both you and your coach. Over the years, I’ve developed a four-step coachability plan.

1. Be willing to listen. There’s a difference between hearing, which is a biological process, and listening. Listening is all about your attention and your attitude. The foundation for any coachee begins with the adage, “God gave you two ears and one mouth to be used in those proportions.” A good coach will spend most of their time asking questions, but when s/he makes a suggestion, if you argue, fuss, or disregard it, you’ve removed your coachability mantle. Listen. Take notes. Listen some more.

2. Suspend what you “know.” We all know what we know. And we all know what we don’t know. (Okay, take a few moments to pause to think through that before reading on.) But we all don’t know what we don’t know. And that unknown knowledge is by far more extensive than the sum of the what we know and what we know that we don’t know. (Confused yet?)

Let me give you an example. Queen Isabella of Portugal knew what she knew; for instance, she knew all sorts of queenly stuff. And she also knew (I suspect) that she didn’t know how to do surgery. What she didn’t know that she didn’t know was that the world wasn’t flat … it’s a sphere. She didn’t know she didn’t know that until a sailor named Christopher Columbus pointed it out and offered to prove it.  For Queen Isabella, the world’s shape moved from one realm of unknowing into another.

With that said, the first act of coachability is suspending what you know in order to catch a glimpse into what you don’t know that you don’t know. Helping you to see past your nose is a key part of what a coach does. Great coaches ask questions that cause you to tentatively peek into that realm, but if you already have all the answers, you’ll never learn anything. To accomplish more than you are now, you must suspend what you know in order to consider alternatives.

3. Try it on. Okay, you’re willing to listen and to suspend what you know, but that will do you little good if you allow your reason to dismiss what you’ve never done in favor of what you’ve always done. The solution to that is to wholesale adopt an alternative way of doing or being. In other words, try it on for size. Not for a moment, but for a bit (which is a technical term for a time significantly longer than a moment, but not quite as long as a while).  Consider, what would you be like if you put the new idea into play? The fact is, you probably don’t know because you’ve never done that before, but if it’s not immoral or unethical, perhaps taking the idea to step four is a good option.

4. Adopt, Adapt, Tweak, Reject. Trying on an alternative to doing or being takes more than cognition. Thinking about something is what we do best as Western leaders. We’re good at it. In fact, we can think something to death without ever putting the alternative way of doing or being into action. If you’ve tried on the alternative as if it was a tee shirt and you can get it over your head without ripping it, then it’s time to live with it for a time. Work out with your coach how long you’re willing to “wear” the alternative. Will you wear it a week? A month? A year? The great thing about wearing a new way of doing or being is that you can always decide it doesn’t fit and you can go back to what you always used to do. Even better, however, is that you have the ability while you’re wearing the alternative – you can adopt it, adapt it, or tweak it before you decide to reject it outright.

So, that’s the four steps to being coachable. Listen, suspend what you know, try it on, and either adopt, adapt, tweak, or reject the new way of doing or being. If you can manage these four steps, you’ll get everything your coach can offer.

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