Three “Uncoachable” Skills and How You Can (Sort Of) Coach Them

A young woman performs rhythmic gymnastics in a warehouse

Though I’m not athletic, several of my relatives are successful sports coaches, and they all agree that there are things no coach can instill in an athlete: “you can’t coach passion” or “you can’t coach height” or “you can’t coach lung capacity”.

Could this also be true in the workplace? Here is our take on three skills often deemed uncoachable, and how you can cultivate them in your team.


From auditors detecting fraud amidst a jumble of numbers to some doctors being able to diagnose certain cancers by touch, drawing accurate conclusions absent or contrary to the usual indicators is a valuable skill.

All humans possess this kind of intuition. It arose from the need for the brain to make snap decisions on sensory input bypassing conscious processing (for example, detecting a tiger based on subtle movements in the grass). Yet, in the modern workplace, we are so conditioned to follow procedure that we ignore intuitive impulses.

Coaching intuition is less about teaching people to be intuitive than reconnecting them with their instincts. After training people to recognize standard “red flag” indicators of common problems, present scenarios where indicators are absent, unobvious or misleading. Let them guess wrong, then ask if they had any doubts.

If so, ask what their doubts seemed to be saying. If not, reveal what they missed: while it may seem like a sneaky trick question, it can create a teachable moment.

Also, make sure everyone in your organization is comfortable discussing and analyzing failure without undue fear of judgment, so that, when a problem is missed or misdiagnosed, the team can reflect on their thought process and whether any intuitive voices went unheeded.


While organizations need procedures and rules to get things done, there will always be novel problems that require creative thinking. Fortunately, all humans are naturally creative: we just need to break free of the rigid thought patterns that work, school and years of routine etch into our heads.

If your team is trying to brainstorm solutions to a challenge, but the results are less than inspired, divide them into small groups and have each pursue a different approach For instance, if you were trying to make the admissions process at a health clinic more pleasant for patients, direct one group to think about the furniture and physical space, direct another to think about interactions with staff and direct a third to explore analogous solutions from other industries.

Different constraints can inspire different ideas.

Systems Thinking

Over the centuries, human society and technology have grown so complex that the workings of the economy, social institutions, science and technology often defy common-sense understanding.

Making effective decisions in a world of complex, interrelated systems is not easy. If you believe in Myers-Briggs personality types, only 15% of people are inclined towards this type of “systems thinking” (and fewer still can apply it effectively within a given field).

So, are the rest of us hopelessly adrift in a sea of complexity? Not entirely. With practice, people can learn to recognize larger systemic factors impacting their work.

The “Five Whys” game is a fun way to develop systems thinking. Present a problem – work related or generic – and ask people to assess the cause, predict the impact or recommend a solution. Then, whatever their response, ask “why”. Then, no matter what reasons they give, ask “why” again. Repeat three more times, never accepting “just because” as an answer. Done in the proper spirit, this game can help people trace the systemic roots of problems they might otherwise approach on a superficial level.

If your organization is interested in developing coaching programs for any skill set – whether mission/business-specific or general – feel free to contact Sonata Learning for a consultation.


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