Coachability and integrity

by Rossana Espinoza 0

Coachability and integrity: two parameters we can’t do without in leadership and building a satisfying career


When it comes to attracting, developing and retaining talent what people value and look for the most are: previous experience, skills and knowledge.

Being a coach to a significant and diverse pool of leaders (change makers, subject experts and institutional), having designed interventions to develop institutional and global research leadership at Imperial College London and now working independently as a coach and consultant across UK, EU and USA tells me something else. When it comes to investing in people, their performance as well as developing and supporting leaders the key parameters to watch for are: coachability and integrity.

Coachability in my mind involves five things:

  1. Wanting to improve.

Individuals who do well can acknowledge and celebrate what works and at the same time want to do better. They seek experiences, challenges and peers that share their values for continuous improvement, innovation and teamwork. Often where coaching most enriches them is by learning how to balance their own drive with energy management. But wanting to improve is something that can be coached also especially in people with lower confidence or need for extra encouragement and belief in their talent.

  1. Being curious about oneself, others and the wider world.

Coachable individuals are curious about how things work and this includes understanding oneself and others. They may not have read a stack of management books or self-help books but they can tell you powerful stories of their own past growth experiences. They have an existing insight into their character and their life journey. But again, one of the most powerful interventions within one-to-one coaching relationships is awareness raising. For many clients irrespective of their starting point, curiosity once ignited motivates further exploration. So when I encounter someone who believes they know it all, I welcome their view and invite them to show me. As we explore what is known boundaries to that knowledge emerge along with uncertainty along with pretty powerful emotions such as fear, self-doubt and anxiety. No wonder many clients deny “not knowing”. It’s uncomfortable. Therefore being with a client in this space is in itself developmental.

  1. Being proactive in seeking feedback.

Coachability is only as effective as having a relationship in which trust and respect allows for people being able to say what they feel and what needs to be said. The same is true for good working relationships at work. However honesty requires safety and skill in listening and communicating messages across in a way that they can be heard. In my experience coaching greatly extends all of these as coaches model how to tell it, how to hear it and also how to receive it. Tolerance and appreciation for speaking plainly so that one can be truly understood and felt helps transform all interactions from meaningless surface interactions into spaces where genuine connection, productive problem solving can take place because people arrive and maintain integrity. Coaching is a fantastic method for helping to raise client’s awareness for self-deception and also for artfully testing the space when they feel things are not right. Only through feedback can assumptions be tested, reality established and progress made.

  1. Valuing oneself enough to make the time for personal development, including coaching.

One of the key issues coaches often complain about is their client skipping meetings, not doing their “homework” and basically sabotaging the work or simply not valuing it in the same way they value other activities. I have certainly had my share of clients who arrived to my practice in fire-fighting mode and at times creating their own crisis to simply stay occupied. In fact, when I work with clients and find them in this cycle, we often focus on getting them out of it first before doing other work. Until clients can value their own wellbeing, they will never value the wellbeing of others. And so if a client does not value their coaching time, cancels appointments, or does a “rush job” on their coaching work, it’s a tell-tell sign that they are caught in a vicious cycle of coping instead of living. Again such behavior in itself is an opportunity for coaching provided the client can begin to recognize it.

  1. Taking responsibility.

Nothing is as important as this parameter. A powerful demonstration of this comes to mind from my work at University of Bristol. One day I found myself walking along one of their institutional leaders when all of a sudden this man bent down and picked up rubbish from the floor of the main administrative building. “How many people do you think went past this?”

I will never forget this moment. It’s a beautiful model of taking responsibility for what is. He went on to say the following. “Yes, it’s the cleaning staff that should mind the litter, but when we receive a visitor to the University the only thing they will have in their mind was – The hallway was dirty.”

I have a framework that I teach to business schools for getting results and responsibility which I have thought to the NASA senior leadership team and which I teach on all my programmes. A key component of this framework is responsibility as it is this that most separates those who continuously succeed and those who don’t. But again, taking responsibility is something we can help clients step into more often in coaching. As a coach I often challenge my clients in areas where I feel they are letting things slide when the situation calls on them to exercise their personal leadership and speak up, delegate, inquire or perhaps listen more attentively.

Finally, I’d like to end on what I think is the golden fleece of character: integrity. If you look around the world today, integrity is in short supply and belief in leaders at a record low. Having integrity means standing up for what you believe when it’s not convenient. One can’t do that without knowing what one values and who one is. I have never seen a successful leader without integrity so I encourage all who read this piece to the end to make time to revisit your own career and life path and check in with who you are and who you want to be.

One of my greatest rewards to date has been to see many of the alumni of my programmes and coaching clients practice integrity. It does not mean we always get it right, but we’re not afraid to try.


Dr. Magdalena Bak-Maier

Personal Coach and Wellbeing Consultant

Contributor’s corner welcomes articles from Learning and Development specialists working to support the Higher Education sector. With this section, the Staff Development Forum (SDF) would like to foster exchange of ideas and good practice amongst professionals. Please note that the Staff Development Forum (SDF) doesn’t endorse services nor views.