By Kevin D. Wilde
March 15, 2023

Imagine you are part of an interview team reviewing final candidates for a critical company position. You’ll be working closely with the successful candidate, so you are highly motivated to find the right one. Your organization believes in behavioral-based, competency interviewing, and you’ve been assigned to determine the candidate’s level of coachability.

Pause for a moment and consider what would you be looking to judge coachability? What questions would you ask?

Having prepared your line of inquiry, you spend the week interviewing the three finalists. Soon you’ll be
meeting with the interview team to give your recommendations, so you carefully reflect on key moments in each interview as you review your notes.

Key Moments with Each Candidate

Candidate A:
Question: Tell me about a time you sought to improve yourself and learn from others.

“You’ll note from my resume a solid track record of high performance and achievement as I advanced to
greater levels of responsibility. In each role, I set a high standard for myself and try to know more than
anyone else. As a result, I earned the respect of a top-notch, highly experienced thought leader and change agent. Knowing more than others gives me the courage to meet any change resistance head-on and overcome the status quo most people cling to. In short, I keep myself on a steep learning curve and now feel ready and fully qualified for this new role.”

Candidate B:
Question: Tell me about a time you received some unexpected, tough feedback.

“Since I’ve already mentioned my tendency to be a perfectionist and outwork others, let me say that in most cases I know what someone is going to tell me before they give me feedback. I know myself well. I always find the comments interesting because it usually tells me more about that person than about me. It’s important to be polite, nod in agreement, thank them, and move on. Of course, I find myself correcting misperceptions and incorrect conclusions others have – that’s my work ethic showing. But they do see the value in my coaching and helping them with corrective feedback.”

Candidate C:
Question: How do you determine the value of feedback or coaching others offer you?

“I follow my gut and first reactions to what I hear and who I heard it from. I’m sure this new job will be
exciting and quite demanding so you’ll want someone who can jump in with quick wins. I move fast as I find that the ever-increasing pace of business means you can’t slow down and ruminate over what someone said or heard. I have picked up some valuable tips over the years, but it mostly came in the ‘heat of the battle’ and not sitting back in a rocking chair contemplating my navel. I’m about action and making a difference every day.”

The Assessment:

While each finalist presented a polished resume and executive presence, you note coachability
shortcomings for each candidate.

  • Candidate A seemed more than qualified to step into a transformational turnaround situation, but you wonder if there was really a heartfelt interest in self-improvement at this stage of their career and a “fully formed” attitude as a leader vs. a “works-in-progress” mindset to actively seek counsel from others.
  • Candidate B was very smooth in redirecting the conversation away from sharing any genuine shortcomings and lessons from experience and tough feedback. You wonder if B would play-act interest as someone shared feedback or would be dismissive of any input. B seemed more interested in coaching and correcting than personal learning.
  • Candidate C was clearly a leader of action and would hit the ground running in the new role. But you wonder if they would miss important signals and messages from others as they charge ahead and not spend adequate time stepping back to reflect and gain a more strategic perspective – especially about themselves.

Gazing in the Mirror

At the end of the debrief, the interview team found a few other issues along with your coachability concerns. All agreed to keep the search going. As you later filed away your interview notes, a thought occurred to you about how you would measure up as a coachable leader in around of interviews.

  • Would you be seen as someone making a difference but also being interested and sincerely open to improving?
  • Would you be able to share stories of how you actively sought coaching and feedback to grow?
  • Would you be seen as someone regularly taking the time to reflect and thoughtfully reflect on what
    others have said and how you can continue to be coachable?

A postscript to this story. If you find yourself interviewing external candidates for an open job or reviewing internal employees for a promotion, add a few questions to assess their current mindset and habits around continuous learning and coachability. All the research highlighted points to the value of coachability – from higher performance levels, to employee engagement, agility, and even profitability. Adding the power of coachability talent to your organization pays off.