My kids play a variety of sports, as many children do. As a parent, the highest compliment that my child can receive from a coach is not about their speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, or ability to put the puck in the net. The highest compliment is: "Your child is very 'coachable.'" In other words, they receive feedback well, listen carefully to the suggestions for improvement, and try hard to execute the new strategies and techniques. They do not complain when criticized constructively, and they do not try to blame others for their mistakes. Of course, leaders would love to find tons of employees who are highly "coachable" as well.
In the New York Times Corner Office column a few weeks ago, Andrew Filev - CEO of Wrike - talked about his leadership style. Filey described how he hires new employees. Wrike is a project management software company. As many leaders are now doing, Filey asks prospective employees to demonstrate their abilities during the hiring process by executing several key tasks that will be crucial to their job at the company. As Filey says, "I’ve learned to test people in action. So you give them some sort of task to see how they think about things. If it’s for a sales job, you ask them to do a presentation. If it’s an engineering job, you ask them to code something. The task shouldn’t take a lot of effort because you don’t want them to do free work for a month. But the answer also shouldn’t be obvious."
Filey takes it one step further though. He doesn't just evaluate how well people perform the assigned tasks. Instead, he expects it to be far from perfect, and he examines how candidates handle the feedback that he provides. He doesn't simply want the highest performer. He wants the best learners, the ones who can improve quickly. He explains, "You also want them to be very coachable. You give them feedback and listen to how they react. Either they’re learning from it and they’re participating and collaborating in the discussion, or they’re arguing with you. Or, just as bad, they’re telling you “yes” because they think that’s what you want to hear, but their ego is so big that they can’t open up and listen to what you’re trying to tell them."