If you are wondering how it could possibly be difficult to be coached, you are not alone.  Surely, you just turn up, listen to the coach, tick off the things you’ve learned and go back to work?

Actually, no.  Its not quite as simple as that.
At the end of June, Portia Tung and I co-presented a workshop at SPA conference. Our session was about the power of coaching, and during the conference I realised it was time I wrote this article.  
It’s been bumping around in my head for a very long time, and its easy to assume everybody already knows this stuff.  Whilst reminiscing coaching experiences gone by (as both the coach and coachee) I remembered some lessons learned and wanted to share them.
(It wouldn’t be right to share the actual anecdotes themselves here, but if you find yourself reading this and thinking: “surely, no one would do that!” The answer is definitely: “Yes, yes they would do that”.)
It is true, that some people are naturally more easily coached than others.  By extension, some people are not.  How would you know?  I suspect the number of people who think they are easily coached are similar to those who think they are above average drivers. (Around 70% according to the AA).

So at the risk of stating the obvious; here are the 4 traits you need to maximise the benefit of being coached.

Don’t turn up empty-handed

Being coached is not a passive process.  You do not just sit there and receive wisdom!  If wisdom is passed across, it’s not with out effort from both parties.
[Tweet “More experience usually comes with a stronger pull on your time. This means your coach’s time is short & valuable to others as well as you”].  
It is likely your coach’s time is short and valuable to other people as well as you.  Make sure you are trying to maximise the benefit you get from them while you have them.
Prepare before each time you meet .  Have questions or topics to talk about (don’t expect to get through them all, so prioritise too).  Bring anything with you that you agreed to do from a previous session.  Also, make sure you’ve thought about what you did, and have some opinions about it.
If it’s your first meeting with your coach, have some idea what you’d like to get out of your meetings. Perhaps have some goals prepared.  Don’t worry, you can change them later if you need to.
Turning up each time with nothing to talk about is not just a waste of both your time. It is also disrespectful to everyone who would do something useful with an hour of your coaches time, were you not wasting it.
Oh, and don’t skip meetings with them unless its at the request of someone very senior for the same reasons.

Don’t expect to get the perfect (or any) answers

Part of the power of coaching is having access to the experiences of your coach, as well as your own.  A bigger part of the power of coaching though, is having access to the way your coach thinks.
[Tweet “Part of the power of coaching is having access to the experiences of your coach, a bigger part is access to the way your coach thinks.”]
Creative thinking, and particularly creative problem solving is a habit born of practice over time.  This is the best raw material in any coaching relationship.   Notice your coach tends to ask you questions leading you to think about your problem in a way that should help you work out a good solution.  Or at least towards a good experiment you can try out!
A good coach doesn’t even need to know your specialist subject to be able to help you think differently.

Rules are….well, more like guidelines.

Time and again I talk with people who feel that the answer to any (agile) question is “SCRUM, harder” or some equivalent.  They often experience frustration with their teams for not sticking to The Rules.  Now, rules are something that should be flexible.  If a team feels it is time to try something new, that’s usually because what they are currently doing isn’t solving their current problem.  Experimenting against a hypothesis to see what would work better should be the next step, but….
Don’t forget that agile is a mind set to solve problems, so don’t get too focussed on sticking to the rules.  [Tweet “The rules are only the rules until they are not.“]
Your coach is no good to you if you are expecting them to tell you the rules.  Especially if they are rules you already know. Legal or moral questions aside, your coach should be helping you think differently.

Alway Be Asking For More

If your coach offers you suggestions or opportunities you are uncomfortable with, try not to dismiss them immediately.  No matter how afraid you are of something, if they think you’d benefit try and take 20 seconds of insane courage to say ‘yes’. You can worry about actually delivering on it later 🙂 .
Your coach is not there to respect your comfort zones, they want to fast-track your learning and development.  The more you say ‘yes’, the more things you will get to do, and the more things you will learn, and you will learn even if you sucked at doing them!
[Tweet “The more you say ‘yes’, the more things you’ll get to do & the more things you’ll learn. And you’ll learn even if you sucked at doing them!”]
That’s it.  4 things to help you get the most out of being coached. Easy peasy.
Let me know if adopting these 4 habits improves your relationship with your coach, or if you feel you are learning faster than ever.  Good luck!