Gender Disparities: How to Improve Coachability as a Leader

August 31, 2023

Coachability gender disparitiesHow to improve coachablility as a leader, and which leaders are struggling the most? Recent research has uncovered an intriguing trend: female leaders often exhibit greater coachability than their male counterparts.

This revelation carries weighty implications, as a leader’s openness to feedback and willingness to learn profoundly shape their career trajectory. A stark lack of coachability has been linked to the removal of high-potential candidates from consideration within organizations. This article looks further into this gender-based coachability divide, dissects its impact on leadership success, and underscores the urgency for male leaders to address this critical factor.

Why Leaders Should Care About Coachability

Coachability is the degree of receptivity a person has to receive feedback in a positive way, reflect on it, and then act on it when appropriate. The seriousness of this capability is described in the graph below

How to Improve Coachability as a Leader/ Leadership Effectiveness ZF Study 2023

The impact that a manager’s coachability has on their direct reports is shown in this graph:

How to Improve Coachability as a Leader/ Engagement Study Zenger Folkman

Why the Warning to Males?

While the absolute difference between males and females in coachability is not enormous, it is statistically significant. Simply put, men are not as coachable as women. The chart below describes that:

How to Improve Coachability as a Leader/ Zenger Folkman Gender Coachability Study 2023

Results based on 360-degree Assessments of 51,940 males and 26,727 females. The difference is statistically significant T Value = 25.091, Sig. = 0.000.

We have called out the fact that this becomes of greater concern as people age, but declining coachability is more pronounced with men than it is with women.

Male vs. Female over time Coachability ZFCO 2023

Results based on 360-degree Assessments of 46,289 males and 23,494 females.

Listen to Episode 112: Why Coachability is the Leadership Superpower of The 90th Percentile: An Unconventional Leadership Podcast 

Why Leaders Should Improve Coachability

In the initial stages of their careers, many leaders possess a compelling urge to seek feedback. However, as they progress, a common assumption emerges— the belief that increased experience will inherently amplify their effectiveness. While this assumption may hold true for certain skills, the realm of leadership mandates an ongoing journey of learning and enhancement.

Our extensive dataset, comprising insights from over 100,000 leaders, illuminates a consistent pattern: leadership effectiveness tends to wane with the passage of time. An often overlooked facet is that the demands placed upon seasoned leaders far exceed those of their younger counterparts.

The crux of the matter lies in the understanding that advancement in years doesn’t equate to automatic improvement; true progress stems from the active pursuit of feedback, coupled with a responsive attitude towards implementing change based on that feedback.

How to Improve Coachability as a Leader: Strategies for Sustaining Growth

Numerous factors contribute to the phenomenon of dwindling coachability, each deserving thoughtful consideration:

  1. Navigating the Learning Zone: Pioneering research by Kevin Wilde, former CLO of General Mills, underscores the significance of residing within a “learning zone” to foster and preserve coachability. This zone demands a balanced self-confidence level. Inadequate self-confidence leads to apprehension towards seeking and embracing feedback, hindered by fear. Conversely, excessive confidence propels individuals out of the learning zone because they deem further development unnecessary. Striking a harmonious equilibrium on the “self-confidence scale” emerges as the optimal approach.
  2. Cultivating a Growth Mindset: The insights of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck spotlight the importance of nurturing a growth mindset. Dweck’s revelations emphasize that some individuals view life as an evolving journey of enhancement, while others remain content with their current status. The dichotomy between a growth and a fixed mindset establishes its roots from an early age.
  3. The Spectrum of “Need for Achievement”: Decades ago, Harvard psychologist David McClelland introduced the concept of the “need for achievement” continuum. Individuals fall at diverse points on this scale, with some compelled by a relentless drive for advancement, while others adopt more measured aspirations within their professional and personal realms.
  4. Embracing Responsibility: A strong sense of responsibility operates as a formidable catalyst. This obligation may be directed towards the organization and its prospects, while another facet involves the accountability felt towards those under one’s leadership. A belief in affording every individual the privilege of working under effective management further bolsters this sense of responsibility.
  5. Cultivating Curiosity: A potent force for sustaining coachability is curiosity. Intellectual inquisitiveness about the consequences of varying leadership approaches propels individuals to linger within the learning zone. Adopting the mindset of a scientist conducting a series of experiments emerges as an effective strategy, enabling a prolonged engagement with the learning process.

We believe there are many ways for people to stay in the learning zone. Our data shows that both male and female managers who continue to ask for and respond to feedback throughout their careers remain in the top quartile of leaders. The stakes are high, both from an individual and organizational perspective.

In Conclusion: Bridging the Gender Gap in Coachability

The exploration of coachability disparities in the context of gender dynamics casts a spotlight on a critical aspect of leadership development. It’s imperative to recognize that coachability stands as a fundamental gauge of a leader’s capacity to learn, adapt, and drive enduring growth. As organizations strive for inclusive and effective leadership, the gender-based coachability divide emerges as an essential focal point for intervention.

By welcoming strategies that encompass cultivating a balanced self-confidence level, nurturing a growth mindset, embracing responsibility, and fostering curiosity, leaders can steer clear of the plateau that often accompanies stagnation in coachability.

Gender should never be a determinant of one’s capacity for growth. Instead, a collective endeavor to embrace and enhance coachability can herald a new era of dynamic, inclusive, and transformational leadership that benefits individuals, organizations, and society at large. The endeavor to bridge the coachability gap is not merely a pursuit of balance; it’s a stride toward a more equitable and empowered future of leadership.

Joe Folkman, President of Zenger Folkman

Coachability