Confident but Coachable

Read Time : 11 Minutes

In today's post I want to put forward the idea that being confident but coach-able is one of the pillars of connecting well with other people and one of the key pillars of team cohesiveness. 

I think my generation is lacking the ability to own both their skills and shortcomings. 
In my interviews with people who are in the business of hiring young professionals (under 30) one of the most common gripes that comes up is "They can't take constructive criticism." 

In speaking with my own generation I’ve seen a surprising trend; the people I know who are truly great at something whether it is art, music, the sciences, coding, design, entrepreneurship, look noticeably hesitant to talk about their skills. 

My generation has lost the ability to be confident and express it as well as the ability to admit where they still have much to learn.

This is a feature of all young people, but I believe though that this communication breakdown has been exaggerated in my generation (millennials) because of the technology we grew up with.

Let me explain; the way I see it there have been two massive unintended consequences of embracing technology as we grew up. The first is that we now, more than ever, have been able to present the best version of ourselves. 50 years ago the best version of yourself was you in a nice jacket or dress. Now the way that we manipulate the image we show the world is much more elaborate and deceiving . we put only the most flattering, filtered and exciting images and stories of ourselves online. 

This is only natural but I am making the case that this increase in how much we think about how we are showing up in the world has created a generation of people who’s self image is fragile and they can not take criticism as well because they have learned to overvalue their own image. 

The second big shift which growing up with technology has created is that we as a generation consumed more media during our youth than any previous generation. Much of the media which we consume has a political or a moral agenda and growing up in this environment has made us overly politically correct. Having seen far more content with a moral stance growing up than any previous generation has made us fearful of being politically incorrect or offending someone. 

As a generation we are too politically correct and as a result we think that bragging about yourself is always unattractive.

But when you truly have the chops in something talking about your own skill is not arrogant, it is factual.

Being oversensitive to being seen as arrogant or inept is a massive weakness when it comes to communication.

Coming from a place of hypersensitivity, we undersell our assets by not bragging. By not being open to criticism we not only ostracize the person giving us feedback, but also stunt the personal growth that well thought out criticism gives us access to. 

So what am I advocating?

Getting clear on what you are good at and bad at and both bragging, and admitting weakness more often. 

You get what you pitch for and you are always pitching.
— Daniel Priestly

What the serial entrepreneur Daniel Priestly means by this is that what you say about yourself will shape your reality and shape what opportunities people around give you. 

If you are not fully owning your strengths to the very edge of arrogance then you are not pitching yourself strongly enough. And because you get what you pitch for; your life will be hampered.

How do you know what you are strong at and what you are weak in? How do you know what you deserve to brag about and what you can admit you are weak in? 

To the first point, knowing your strengths, the exercise I use is called the Eulerian destiny  (brainchild of the mathematician Leonhard Euler)

How to know what to brag about

To do this exercise and find out what your core competency is, you will look at the intersection of  four ideas. 

1.    What your upbringing was like - the story of your childhood interests and struggles shapes largely where you are right now.
2.    What do strangers regularly compliment you on? The things they compliment you on are usually where you have the greatest natural assets and talents
3.    What have you been doing for work the past 5 years - this normally points to what skills you've developed
4.    What can you talk about for hours, effortlessly? This exercise brings in your passion to the equation.

from looking at these four elements you will find where your passion intersects with your skills and where both of these can be best used to serve the worlds needs (career paths) 
Knowing that and taking even just 20 minutes of introspection will enable you to move forward and confidently pitch who you are and what you stand for in this world.  

Here is my Eulerian destiny, I grew up as an avid reader and a tinkerer with mechanical things, people compliment me on holding myself well and being well spoken, I have been obsessively teaching people how to be better communicators for the last 5 years, and I regularly bore my friends and family to tears because that is the only subject I care about (Irony.)

My Eulerian destiny is clearly to invent new tools to be better communicators  and presenters and teach them to people in my generation who have a need for those skills. 

When it comes to that topic, I am more than happy to have self-esteem bordering on narcissism but on other subjects, I don't like to brag. 

Now it's your turn. Before reading on, please leave a comment below letting me know what your Eulerian destiny is and how you know. 

Now that confidence and being able to brag about yourself are taken care of, how do we build the trait of being coachable? 


My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.

— Michael Jordan

Here is a 4 step process for being more coachable. When you do this, when yous seek out and utilize constructive criticism you endear yourself to the person you ask criticism from. They appreciate the subtext of the communication, which is that you take their opinion very seriously into account when you decide how to live your life. It is subtle flattery. 

Not only that but a well thought out criticism is very useful. 

Constantly seek criticism. A well thought out critique of whatever you’re doing is as valuable as gold.

— Elon Musk


Here is my framework for becoming more coachable.

Seek out criticism

The hardest part is just getting started we must program the habit into ourselves of actively seeking criticism from those whose opinions we value. This is a habit, not a one time thing. As far as possible seek to ask people who will be able and willing to give you a well thought out and helpful critique. Not people who just wants a chance to lash out at you. 

Example of a good person to ask: a past client
Example of a poor person to ask: your competitor who was trying to land the same client

Accept criticism emotionally

One issue with seeking criticism out is that when it comes, you actually have to hear it. 
Sometimes it hurts to hear a critique of your character or skills but remember that it is for your own good to know this. It might hurt now but it will make you a more humble and practical person in the long run. 

A good way to deal with criticism is an idea I borrowed from the stoic philosophers. 

A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation.’ This remark of Epicurus’ is to me a very good one. For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform. Some people boast about their failings: can you imagine someone who counts his faults as merits ever giving thought to their cure? So—to the best of your ability—demonstrate your own guilt, conduct inquiries of your own into all the evidence against yourself. Play the first part of prosecutor, then of judge and finally of pleader in mitigation. Be harsh with yourself at times.
— Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

Thank the person for the criticism

A frequently forgotten part of getting feedback from other people is giving thanks. Usually after a real and well thought out criticism we are slightly emotionally rattled and we are not thinking clearly. In this state of mind it is easy to mumble out a quick thank you and then go on with your day. but giving out a well thought out thank you to a well though out critique will cement the bond with the person you are communicating with and it will make you more likely to act on the information. 

Most people neglect to thank the person who criticizes them because they really don't appreciate and desire to act on what they have just learned. 

So how do you give a well thought out thank you?

I like this little framework. 

"Thanks NAME, I have never thought about X, Y or Z before. I am going to think about how to use what you just taught me to be better at THING."

This little statement shows your appreciation and also shows that you were really listening and thinking about how to connect the feedback the other person was giving you to your life. 

Here is a real example. 

I got on the phone with my best friend to seek his feedback about how I communicate. 
After I asked him for his feedback on what I am weakest in he told me that I …
"…sometimes argue just for the sake of arguing" and that I "Win an argument without looking at the bigger picture"

I will admit, my first impulse was to start arguing and defending myself, to yell back "I DO NOT!"

But I held back, maybe he had a point. 

After we spoke for a while more I thanked him and intuitively followed the framework I just gave you.

I said something like:

"Thanks, I never thought about it before but now that you mention it, I do remember a few times that I started an argument with you that left us both in bad moods just because I had to be right. I am definitely going to think about how I can be better at knowing what is important in the big picture, and when to give up a small victory for better relationships"

Act on the criticism

This is not conditional, I think that one way or another you must act on the criticism. 
If you come to the conclusion that the criticism is wrong, ignore it. 
If you look on a criticism and you see  it as a relatively unimportant part of who you are and what you do, it is something that is accurate but not a high priority in your life then you shelve it for later. 

If you look at the criticism and you realize that it is accurate and that by acting on the criticism life will be better, do it no matter what your ego says to the contrary. 
Acting on a criticism doesn’t mean trying to improve the worst part of yourself though. 
I am a terrible writer but rather than attempt to read style guide after style guide to improve my writing to an acceptable level I just use a grammar and style software to get things to a passable level. Rather than try to fix my innate weakness I put all my mental energy in the one thing about writing I am great at, and that is giving value. 

By having a little introspection about your weaknesses and strengths you will be able to know where your time and energy is best spent and you will know when it is time to brag and be confident and when it is time to admit your shortcomings. 

If I didn't know my skills I might waste hours and hours trying to make each post i release have style. By doing this i might reach a decent level but wouldn't that time be better spent on producing 3 posts and offering more value and using a machine to fix my shortcomings? 
It is all a matter of investing your time in your strengths. 

To wrap this post up, knowing what you are really great at and knowing what you are terrible at means that you can be humble when appropriate and confident when appropriate. By acting in this way your life will improve in two major ways. First, you will start to act on your strengths more often and see more success as a result. Second, by being able to brag about your strengths and admit your shortcomings you will build a deeper connection with people and be more likely to get what you pitch for. 

“A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.”
— Peter F. Drucker

My challenge to you:

If you are a young professional us the Eulerian destiny model to find out what you can brag about. Then make a list of 3 people who you want criticism from in your workplace (and maybe social circle) and then go through the 4 step process with all of them as I outlined. 

If you employ young professionals do the same but also share this article with your team as a way of starting a conversation about what a confident yet coachable culture might look like in your business. 

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