The 16.6% Club: Leaders Who Excel in Grit and Coachability

September 11, 2023

Grit and Coachability

There are some leadership behaviors that may not mesh well together, making it a rare feat to witness a leader who embodies both. Conversely, certain situations demand the seamless integration of disparate qualities, as success hinges on their combined presence. Enter grit and coachability, two distinct yet increasingly popular behaviors at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Grit embodies unyielding determination and unwavering drive, while coachability reflects an individual’s openness to seeking feedback and embracing change. This article delves into the interaction of these diverse traits, exploring their combined impact on leadership effectiveness.

Grit, as coined by Angela Duckworth, represents the blend of passion and sustained persistence toward long-term achievement. Leaders who exhibit grit are relentless in pursuing their goals, maintaining high standards, and going above and beyond their responsibilities.

On the other hand, coachability, as described by Kevin Wilde, signifies a leader’s openness to actively seek feedback and willingly adapt to improve their performance. It is the humility to acknowledge areas of growth and the eagerness to make positive changes based on feedback from others.

At first glance, one might assume that grit would single-handedly dominate the effectiveness equation. After all, determination and drive are essential for overcoming obstacles and achieving success. Yet, an overly determined leader might disregard critical feedback, leading them to forge ahead on the wrong path or ignore negative consequences.

Grit and Coachability: The Power of Dual Enhancement

To examine the influence of these traits on leadership effectiveness, our research analyzed a dataset of 6,008 leaders who underwent 360-degree assessments and subsequent improvement plans. We assessed the improvement in overall leadership effectiveness alongside significant advancements in both traits. We classified effectiveness into five levels and measured the degree of improvement or stagnation in each dimension.

Grit and Coachability Effectiveness

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

The Findings for Grit and Coachability:

Zenger Folkman’s research revealed that improvement in both coachability and grit had a substantial influence on overall leadership effectiveness. Leaders who actively sought feedback and embraced change while staying determined and focused on their goals experienced the most significant advancements in their abilities. On the other hand, those who neglected either trait showed less progress in their leadership effectiveness.

The study shows that effective leadership improvement comes from having both grit and coachability. Leaders often charge ahead with their plans, only to realize later that adjustments are needed. Coachability helps leaders understand the effects of their actions and makes their efforts more focused and powerful. Overall, combining grit and coachability leads to significant leadership enhancement.

A Rare but Essential Blend of Traits

 Intriguing insights emerged from a dataset comprising 118,031 leaders, each evaluated for their coachability and grit through 360-degree feedback assessments. It showed that a mere 16.6% of these leaders occupied the top quartile in both coachability and grit.

This revelation underscores a real need in our leadership landscape: the scarcity of leaders who embody both boldness and an unwavering openness to input. We yearn for leaders who not only fearlessly pursue excellence but also actively seek the perspectives of others.

The question arises: How can leaders project strength and unwavering resolve while simultaneously signaling a receptiveness to constructive insights? Striking this delicate balance can prove challenging, as leaders often lean towards one trait at the expense of the other.

In essence, the quest for leaders who harmonize the tenacity of grit with the humility of coachability is a rare but indispensable pursuit.

Do Grit and Coachability influence Employee Engagement?

There is a direct correlation between employee engagement and leadership effectiveness. The more effective the leader, the higher the engagement. In the graph below, we examined the improvement efforts of leaders and the impact on the engagement level of direct reports. As the graph demonstrates, both grit and coachability influence improved engagement. However, when both improved, engagement went up significantly.

The key to successful improvement efforts is a combination of grit (hard work, determination, and passion) and coachability (checking in with others on the impact of your efforts to improve).

Several years ago, I was listening to a lecture by a United States Astronaut. He said, “Taking a rocket to the moon is like shooting a gun in New York and hitting a gum wrapper in San Francisco.” There is no way to aim well enough to make that shot. To get to the moon, you need to make adjustments all along the way to the moon. This is the power of coachability.

Grit and Coachability


This study sheds light on the vital interplay between grit and coachability in enhancing leadership effectiveness. While grit fuels determination and perseverance, coachability acts as the catalyst for continuous improvement through feedback and adaptability. Embracing both traits can lead to substantial growth and transformation in leaders, driving them toward long-term achievement and success. As organizations seek to nurture their future leaders, recognizing the importance of these characteristics will undoubtedly foster a more effective and resilient leadership culture.

Joe Folkman