Those who know me well know that some of the most impactful influences on my religious and spiritual life have come from the Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits are a Catholic religious order known for their commitment to education and social justice, and many of my best teachers (as well as a favorite uncle) have been Jesuits. One of the main goals of Jesuit teaching is to encourage their students to be “Open to Growth.”

In the context of Jesuit education, this means that a student takes intentional responsibility for growth in the discovery and use of his or her talents, and understanding that leadership means encouraging growth in their self and others. I firmly believe that we are students for life, and that seeing every experience as an opportunity for growth and positive change is vital to a successful and meaningful life. This is one of the principles upon which I have built my coaching philosophy and business.

In the business coaching world, I see great parallels between being “Open to Growth” and being “Coachable”.

What is Coachability?

Interestingly, the Catholics hang on to the notion that one man is infallible, incapable of making mistakes or being wrong – the Pope. The current Pope, Francis, is a Jesuit (the first one ever!). Infallibility might suggest “un-coachability,” but Francis has exhibited a leadership style far from the arrogance a word like infallible might suggest.

He is an avid listener. A leader who listens makes the leader a follower, or perhaps a ‘Servant Leader.’ In the Pope’s case, he seems to heed the message of the poor, the disheartened Catholics, those divorced or perhaps those who have felt unwelcome in the Church. He is upsetting the status quo.

This guy is remarkable. To turn away from the obvious POWER resident in the role he holds and to focus on listening to the least empowered, perhaps embittered, is a sign of coachability and leadership. He is not only coachable, he is an entrepreneur, if you accept the Schumpeter definition, “one who disrupts the status quo.” Pope  Francis is leading by being coached by those who ordinarily lack a VOICE within the Catholic Church. How many of us, once labeled infallible, would heed the voice of the oppressed?

What are the Qualities of a Coachable Leader?

If you’re a coachable leader like Pope Francis, you’re willing to listen to feedback from your employees, co-workers, board members, or mentors, and are able to acknowledge that there’s room for improvement. No one is perfect (infallible), but if you’re a coachable person you’re willing to alter your behavior patterns for the betterment of your community, business, and coworkers. In fact, as a coachable person you will even seek change and counsel from others.

Many coachable people find the idea of self-improvement to be exciting, because it opens new doors and leads to growth and success. Open to Self-Improvement is Open to Growth, the hallmark of a Jesuit education as exemplified by the Jesuit leader Pope Francis.

Listen with the Intent to Learn

In a post on GiveMore.com, the author writes that in order to be coachable, you must be able to “listen with the intent to learn rather than to show what you know.” I love this idea, although it is often difficult to accomplish, especially for me. So often we listen without really hearing what the other person is saying. We wait for an opportunity to jump in and contribute or affirm our understanding, and as a result we don’t give our full attention to what is being said.

Reflect Upon Your Interactions 

The fast pace of our world doesn’t offer us many opportunities to be reflective – to think carefully about our conversations, actions, and even our thoughts. Taking the time to reflect gives us the chance to observe the patterns and habits that may be interfering with our goals and aspirations, and to take steps to change them. Take just a couple nano-seconds to listen to your heart.

Consider these questions, which I’ve adapted from GiveMore. Your answers will give you an idea of how coachable you are, as well as what habits you can adjust to be more open to growth.

Do I think before I respond to feedback?

Do I allow others to finish their thought before I respond?

Do I ask questions about feedback and criticism in order to better understand it?

Do I immediately try to defend or justify myself when I’m given feedback or criticism?

Never Stop Learning, and certainly not about yourself. Make it a lifelong process.

Many entrepreneurs and business people focus solely on their bottom line, their industry goals, or their career advancement without realizing that the success of their career also depends on their growth as an individual. The key tenet of the Jesuit’s idea of being “Open to Growth” is acknowledging that we are never done growing or learning. When we do this, every new experience or challenge becomes an opportunity to make ourselves better, stronger, smarter, and more compassionate.

Ultimately, becoming a coachable person allows us to see outside ourselves and opens the doors of continual growth and success. The approach of Pope Francis to his leadership of the Catholic Church gives me great hope that all people and institutions are capable of openness, discovery, and positive change through careful listening and reflection.

As a business coach, I am passionate about sharing my journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I encourage you to seek out guidance on your own journey and remain always “Open to Growth.”