Coachability – the ‘partnership’ in coaching

Feb 12, 2020

The ICF all-weather definition of Coaching describes coaching as a partnership. True partnership is possible only when both the coach and the client drop the need to be ‘coach-like’ or ‘client-like’ in the session. When this happens, potentialities abound. This is Coachability at work.

Extract from my ebook

Two years ago, I wrote a monograph on Coachability as an assignment for the Coacharya ACTP program. Coacharya was gracious enough to publish it as an ebook on the website .

The writing of the ebook itself was a joyous exploration riding on my own intuition and some simple research on the subject (there was very little substance that directly referred to it).

Coachability is the state of being curiously, unconditionally and courageously open to life’s myriad dimensions.

Since then and over hours of great, good and indifferent experiences as a professional coach, I find myself exposed to both the impact and challenge to be truly coachable. And I face the inescapable conclusion that

Becoming coachable is access to creating a partnership in a coaching engagement!

The immediate trigger for this post is a recent experience in the weekly peer coaching sessions organized by Coacharya.

What just happened here!

I was the client (coachee) in that particular session and came in with a genuine challenge, though not an uncommon one among coaches. I had a client with whom the dialogue was trapped in a transactional eddy, it needed a breakthrough of sorts for us to step into the uncharted space beyond. Most of us, particularly, in the early stages of our journey as a coach would be somewhat familiar with that feeling. Banging the head against a jelly wall in a padded cell is not an inappropriate metaphor!

Just a week earlier, it had been my turn to coach. Our roles were reversed, so we already had a great rapport coming into this session. Also, I had caught a glimpse of some of her current life challenges & perspectives. A genuinely warm person, generous with her emoting and sharing, deep in her observations, that was my coach.

We were well into the conversation and making serious headway. My coach, at that moment,  was sharing something that resonated for her from our last conversation when of a sudden I (mentally) started and blurted out (interrupting her) that she was doing something very similar to what I used to do with my own client, the one with whom I was stuck!

As a conversation stopper, that had no equal! How often do you come across a client who makes a critical comment about the coach in the middle of a session? Not very, I’m sure.

But it was an observation, plain and simple. A bit like seeing some lint on your friend’s sleeve and letting her know.

Of course, after a few breaths of ‘what just happened there’ for both us, I spoke more about what was clearly a truth moment for me. As my coach was sharing her own mind with customary passion, I noticed a lot more of the coach in the dialog than I expected to. The breakthrough for me at that moment was that there I too was definitely exercising subtle forms of power and influence in my sessions with the client. But that’s another story. I have thought about that moment since.

Here is what I think happened:

  • The spontaneous sharing by my coach was an expression of not just generosity of spirit but also untrammeled curiosity. That’s the impulsion to learn. Right through that session, my coach was becoming progressively more coachable.
  • Though I was the client here, when I made that observation, it was the coach in me that noticed what was happening and spoke out.
  • In that short interval of time I was both, coach and client, and so was my coach. There was a blurring of boundaries that seemed right. Had we stopped to think about it, we may have lost that moment … and I would still be stuck!

There is attractive reciprocity to the idea that I am both coach and client at the same time, which while leaving the ownership for movement with me also acknowledges the intrinsic interdependency of the coaching process, as good a way as any I suppose to describe true Partnership, each of them more than equal!

We subconsciously carry within ourselves a considerable baggage of guidelines, rules and best practices on not just what a coach/coaching is, but also what a client ought to be.

This is an excellent and necessary scaffolding as we train under an ACTP or equivalent program, but just as a space rocket has to decouple from its supporting frame at launch, so to do we as coaches.

The risk of being overly dependent on the markers (PCC /ACC) is that we end up playing the role of a coach, instead of ‘being’ a coach.  A bit like a Shakespearean actor relying on prompts from the script instead of the fluency and emotive intensity we expect from a thespian.

Letting go of our inbuilt coach-isms and client-isms is a necessary step towards coachability, partnership, and eventual coaching mastery.

There is a growing conviction in me that the coach’s own life experiences and accrued wisdom have at least as much to contribute towards a session as her competencies in coaching.

When we coach, to what extent are we present as an aggregate whole of all that we are? If there is even a fragment of ourselves we leave outside the coaching room, we are inevitably limiting our presence in the session, my intuition tells me that ‘partnership’ cannot be a possibility here.

Possibly, we can now attempt to tie 3 things together:

  1. Coachability
  2. Presence
  3. Partnership

Coachability is the innate nature of the very presence that generates true partnership!

In the language of logic, we may use the symbol ↔ (implies and is implied by) to write:

Coachability ↔ Presence

Within the ambit of coachability nestles generative listening and inquiry, direct and spontaneous communication, dancing in the moment – all those familiar competency groups that need precede insight and awareness.

We are now in a space where conventional definitions blur, and balance is often on a knife-edge. And yet, coach or not, each of us has been in this space before. We know the feeling where there is continuous synthesis happening in our conversations.

Here are 2 questions that could help you dwell in this space a little longer:

  • As you are reading this question, how coachable do you feel?
  • What can be an enhanced mode of ‘listening-sharing-inquiry’, spontaneous yet not impulsive, aiding yet non-intrusive?

Warm wishes and an eventful 2020 to all!

Mohan Bala
Mohan Bala


Mohan Bala is a Coacharya alumnus, professional coach and learning consultant. His describes his life as an inquiry into the unifying principles of 'the way everything works' in the phenomenal and nuomenal universe.

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