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The 2 Ingredients I Look For In A Coaching Client

There are two things I look for when a potential client who wants coaching.


The first is fit. Fit is everything. When there’s a fit there’s chemistry. The conversation builds on itself naturally. You’re attuned to the other person as they are to you.

A mismatch in personality, however, feels like you’re banging your head against the wall. The conversation is awkward. The coach’s style doesn’t fit yours. The coachee doesn’t do the work. The relationship just sucks.

This is why Ernest Shackleton crafted his “Help Wanted” poster to screen for misery. He wanted to attract the right people from the start and not waste time weeding out applicants who weren’t willing to endure hardship.

How do you determine fit? I’ll share a few things I look for in a prospective client to determine whether or not we’re a good fit.

Language and tone.

The majority of my intakes are phone-based as opposed to Skype or Facetime. While the latter prevail in communicative effectiveness over the former, I find that some people aren’t comfortable being seen on video—at least, not yet.

Anyway, language and tone play big roles because I’m listening for openness and defensiveness, both of which are indicated through tone and language. Examples of defensive language and tones are:

  • Raising one’s voice
  • Interrupting mid-sentence
  • Accusatory language (statements that start with “you”)
  • Lots of “buts”


Coachability is your willingness to learn and apply what you learned. There are a number of ways to assess one’s coachability, but administering questionnaires with questions like:

  • “How coachable are you on a scale of 1 to 5?”
  • “Are you open to learning?”

…don’t exactly reveal coachability. Instead, they reveal a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They reveal how well you can answer “yes” on a test. After all, who’s going to respond with, “No, I’m just not coachable. Ever” or “Nope, I am absolutely, 100 percent NOT open to learning anything new.”?

And then there are people who simply aren’t coachable. They are incapable of self-reflection (or simply unwilling to “go there”), they resist outside perspective, or they already have a mental model in their heads that coaching is reserved to correct—or my personal favorite, to “fix”— behavior.

If you want to determine coachability, look at (past) behavior. One of the most important indicates of coachability that I look for is humility.

While it’s true that humility begets learning, there’s a slight difference between the two. Learning indicates a change of mind, whereas humility indicates a change of heart. A change of mind will help you think differently but not necessarily act differently. This is why you just know it would be more productive to wake up early and workout before the day starts, but you don’t.

To act differently you need to be different, and that requires a change of heart. There are plenty of people out there who love learning but are unwilling to consider alternative perspectives (perhaps because they feel they already know everything). Perpetual learning is important, but it doesn’t make you coachable. What makes you coachable is your willingness to apply what you learned and be wrong.

A couple ways to gauge humility:

  • Do they ask questions?


  • Do they invite feedback? (And do they respond to unsolicited feedback positively or defensively? Are they willing to discuss the feedback or do they want to immediately shut down the conversation?)

Related: The 13 Habits Of Humble People

  • Are they “one-uppers?” These are people who “one-up” every conversation so they have the biggest number or the best experience or the best [insert anything here] in the conversation. These people are draining.


  • Do they seek or cede control? It shouldn’t be a surprise that coachability and control go hand-in-hand. A person always in control isn’t likely to be vulnerable. Without vulnerability, there is no humility. No openness. No newness (and therefore, no coaching).

Something else I do in determining one’s coachability is listen to their immediacy of response. This is the time in between a question and an answer. Generally speaking, the faster one gives an answer, the less reflective he or she might be. At the same time, this might also be an indication of their level of self-awareness, the quality of the question being posed, or their level of subject matter expertise (if responding to a technical question). The point is, consider a range of questions and the immediacy of response throughout them all. Take note of what questions took longer to answer and which ones were shorter, and then dig deeper into the questions that took longer because that’s where the emotion is.

Fit and coachability are important as they both reflect the quality of the coaching relationship.

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