Higher Ed Alert: Companies Looking for This One Thing

It is higher education’s responsibility to ensure their students are ready to be productive in the work environment.

Companies that want to develop talent look for a range of hard and soft skills in prospective employees. But there’s also a new paradigm of skills emerging that executives say they need in their teams.

The mix is shifting as artificial intelligence increasingly improves upon human hard skills. Hard skills, such as training on specific software, are needed but will inevitably change. Soft skills, in contrast, are slightly harder to replicate, as they involve workplace etiquette.     

But today, the most important set of skills for students preparing to enter the working world falls under neither of those two categories. It’s a category called life skills, and one of the premier life skills is coachability.

Coachability Leads to Success

These days it takes a college degree just to snag an interview with a company. While a college degree may get you an interview, the diploma alone isn’t enough.      

Employers are really seeking a college graduate with life skills, someone who is prepared to delve into the business and be productive from the get-go, someone who will accept feedback and improve. That’s why it’s important for job candidates to demonstrate coachability, which is more a state of mind and willingness to grow than anything else. In a national survey, executives report that lacking coachability is one of the main reasons new hires don’t work out.

To understand coachability, it’s instructive to know what it is NOT: 

  • It isn’t worker training.
  • It isn’t worker management.
  • It isn’t traditional review processes.

In fact, employers also say it’s one of the hardest skills to teach employees. 

Coachability is:

  • Consistently learning and growing from others and from situations to increase one’s value, in life and at work.
  • Knowing how to receive feedback from leaders in a positive way, then implementing it and seeing the entire experience as a moment to grow.
  • Ultimately, a high degree of coachability creates a solution finder, not someone who is merely a problem solver.          

Resistance and stubbornness are the opposites of coachability. That’s why overconfidence is often viewed as a toxic trait at work. The world is changing fast, and jobs and college majors that exist today might not be here in a few years, owing to new technology that can learn and process information faster. Employees with the capacity, ability, and desire to move forward will always be in demand, as they view challenges as opportunities. 

How to Develop Coachability     

Coaching can take on different forms. It doesn’t always have to be direct interaction from one person to another. Reading memoirs and biographies can be a fruitful way to absorb the mental models and attributes of successful people. 

Real-world experiences, though, and the messy, complex parts of them, are where wisdom is most often developed. Most successful people have a lot to teach us about what is learned from failure.

To set up success for students, a college can bring in CEOs and experts from the corporate world to talk about what they look for — and what they don’t like — in potential employees. Still, while students may get ideas about what worked for those people, just listening to them won’t make students coachable. They should interact with those types of leaders, share their ideas, ask for feedback, or work on a project together. To replicate success, it’s necessary to understand the underlying reasons for that success. That’s something a coach can explain best in a real-world scenario. 

When we hear the word coaching, sports are the most likely activity that comes to mind. In sports, a successful coach will inform, involve, engage, and correct — all of which increases players’ capacity to learn. Most athletes need coaching, both physical and mental. Even athletes at the top of their game are continually seeking to improve, learn and adapt. It is their coachability that makes them, in many ways, successful.     

Are you coachable?

The way we listen to feedback from trusted friends and mentors can help us process new information and understand how it fits in with our beliefs. Beliefs lead to behaviors, and good behaviors lead to successful results. 

The people who instill our beliefs are instrumental in our success. That starts with our parents. They are our first coaches. Teachers, mentors, and friend groups come next.  

To test your own level of coachability and the value you bring to others, you could ask yourself this series of honest questions: Why should someone do business with me? Why should someone hire me over other candidates? Why should someone invest in my venture? 

Your life’s path is largely about how you are positioned in the eyes of others, so you could also ask your closest coaches these questions about yourself. Their answers will be more valuable than your own. They’ll provide you with insights and opportunities you didn’t see before you looked at yourself through their eyes.

Good coaching gives us all a better sense of awareness: situational awareness, people awareness, social awareness, and global awareness.

Combined, it all leads to good judgment. The more aware you are, the more informed you are, and the more likely you are to use good judgment. That makes you more relevant to a changing, competitive world, regardless of the latest technology that’s posed a threat to workers. Armed with life skills like coachability, we will always be positioned to create and render value in our ever-advancing world.

Dr. Nido Qubein is president of High Point University in High Point, North Carolina.