“On average, how old is everyone?”

While somewhat unusual, I’ve learned to ask conference organizers this question as I prep to present the research and case for leadership coachability.  Of all the background information on audience interests, occupations or even conference themes, the most usual guide to fine-tune a relevant message is to understand the average career decade in the room. I try not to over-generalize, respecting individual differences but need a starting point for relevance. 

Each decade in our working careers brings its unique challenges, opportunities, and lessons. As I reflect on my career journey and coaching others, I keep returning to the invaluable role of coachability and asking the right questions.  There were times when I did and times when I wish I had asked. 

Being coachable—open to feedback, eager to learn, and ready to adapt—is a critical skill at any age. Each decade also comes with its potential career derailers, such as a lack of direction in your 20s, resistance to feedback in your 30s, becoming too comfortable in your 40s, and complacency in your 50s. Coachability is your safeguard against these pitfalls. It involves continuous learning, networking, self-reflection, and maintaining a work-life balance.

 While career stages can vary by the size of the organization, our roles, and life choices, here’s a starting point:

In Your 20s: The Foundation Years

Your twenties are a time of exploration, skill-building, and laying the groundwork for your future career. It’s a period characterized by enthusiasm, adaptability, and a thirst for learning. Being coachable means asking critical questions about skill development, seeking feedback on your performance, and embracing mentorship opportunities. Leverage your natural adaptability and digital fluency to volunteer for projects that push your boundaries, showcasing your potential for growth and leadership.

Starting Point Coachable Questions:

  • Self-Discovery and Skill Development: “What are the key skills I should develop at this stage of my career to set a strong foundation for future success?”
  • Feedback on Performance: “Can you provide specific examples of what I’ve done well and where I can improve?”
  • Mentorship and Growth Opportunities: “Who in the organization can I learn from, and what projects should I take on to broaden my experience?”

In Your 30s: Building Depth and Leadership

As you move into your thirties, you’re no longer a newcomer. This decade is about deepening your expertise, expanding your professional network, and developing your leadership skills. The challenge now is to remain open to feedback and continue learning, even as you become more skilled. Work-life balance becomes crucial as professional and personal responsibilities grow. Use your increased emotional intelligence to navigate complex workplace dynamics and mentor others, enhancing your leadership qualities.

Starting Point Topics & Coachable Questions:

  • Leadership Skills: “What can I do to improve my leadership skills and prepare for potential larger  managerial roles?”
  • Collaboration: Where do I need to build better relationships across the organization?
  • Strategic Performance: “What are things I am doing that others should do and what should I spend more of my time going?”
  • Resilience: “How well am I dealing with failure and challenging feedback when things don’t go well?”

In Your 40s: Achieving Leadership and Influence

Your forties are a time to leverage your deep industry knowledge, strategic thinking, and mentorship abilities. Being coachable means not becoming too comfortable with the status quo. It involves challenging yourself with new projects and roles, and dedicating time to develop future leaders. Your ability to adapt and continue contributing effectively, despite rapid industry changes, will mark your success in this decade.

Starting Point Topics & Coachable Questions:

  • Impact and Influence: “Where am I reacting to symptoms and not addressing root cause issues and opportunities?”
  • Adaptability to Change: “Given the rapid changes in our industry, how can I stay adaptable and continue to contribute effectively?”
  • Career Differential: “Given my career aspiration, how do I demonstrate differential capabilities needed to advance?”

In Your 50s and Beyond: Visionary Leadership and Legacy

The focus of your fifties and beyond shifts towards visionary leadership and legacy building. With a wealth of experience, a holistic understanding of business cycles, and strong professional networks, you’re in a unique position to guide your organization through changes and challenges. Being coachable at this stage means committing to lifelong learning, valuing new perspectives, and mentoring future leaders to ensure the continued growth of the organization.

Starting Point Topics & Coachable Questions:

  • Visionary Leadership: “How can I use my experience to contribute to the organization’s long-term vision and success?”
  • Collective Capability Building: “Are we building the right capabilities in the organization to win now and in the future?”
  • Mentorship and Succession: “How can I best mentor younger colleagues to ensure a seamless transition and the continued growth of the organization?”
  • Contribution and Engagement: “How do I achieve both what the company needs and my passions and interests now?”

A Lifetime on the Lifeline of Growth

Being coachable is not just about being open to feedback; it’s about actively seeking out opportunities to learn and grow at each stage of life.  It’s about understanding that no matter how much you achieve, there’s always room for improvement. By embracing coachability at every stage of your career, you open yourself to a world of possibilities, ensuring a rich, fulfilling professional journey that not only advances your career but also contributes to the growth and success of those around you.

Remember, the journey of self-improvement and professional development is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to enduring success is the willingness to remain coachable—adaptable, curious, and humble—no matter where you find yourself on the career timeline.