Got grit?

20 Jul 2017

If there’s one thing my clients wish I could ‘wave a magic wand’ and give them, it’s discipline. Grit.

‘If I was just more disciplined, I would be able to do X’ (‘X’ being whatever goal it is they currently have.)

In her book 9 things successful people do differently Heidi Grant Halvorson cites research showing that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime and higher grades.

Grit is about not giving up when it’s hard, when the unexpected happens and throws you off course or, as Grant Halvorson writes, ‘when you are tired, discouraged or just plain bored’.

Who are these ‘gritty’ people and how did they get their ‘grit’? Many of us believe they won some genetic lottery that hands out discipline and perseverance, and we missed out.

Grit is built, not born

As Grant Halvorson writes: “People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have.”

But that’s just not true.

The great news is – you are not stuck with whatever grit you were born with.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s TED talk (viewed well over a million times and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” Grant), explains that ‘people with a lot of grit tend to be very successful, and that grit can be an even better predictor for achievements than IQ’

Duckworth studied grit in the context of exceptional performance and believes it is the x-factor that sets apart those of equal talent and intelligence. Her definition of grit is ‘perseverance and passion for long term goals’.

It’s an attitude, not an end game

There’s actually no great mystery to developing more grit. When you focus on improving something, you naturally get grittier.

It takes a willingness to look in places we don’t really want to look.  It takes the courage to do things we would really prefer not to do. 

Sometimes the thing we are avoiding – learning a skill we think we won’t be good at for example – is what’s actually standing between you and the success you’re after – not just rigid daily discipline.

Take a moment to think about what you could get ‘grittier’ at today and try it out.  What action are you currently avoiding that would make you better at your job? What’s one part of your job that you’re not good at or prefer not to do?  If it’s standing between you and the goals you want to achieve what do you need to do to get good at it?

Your agenda is not your grit

There is an expectation of us as leaders that we should be able to persevere where our team might flag.

This type of grit can be what helps a leader successfully achieve their vision… or it could be the sign of a leader who is pursuing their own agenda and calling it ‘grit’.

In his article 5 essential traits of leaders with true grit  Billy Murphy argues that there is a difference between being ‘gritty’ and ‘bullheaded’. He believes some leaders excuse their exclusive focus on a goal that is important to them as having ‘grit’, when they may not have stepped back to assess whether their goal is truly right for the organisation and the people they are leading.

He argues that Duckworth’s view that grit trumps talent and intelligence misses the two important steps of ensuring the goal being pursued is truly worthy and developing smart strategies to achieve them (rather than railroading everyone in the way).

Getting to grips with grit

Margaret M. Perlis in her article 5 characteristics of grit – How many do you have?  writes that Duckworth herself admits the ‘nature of grit remains elusive’ and that it waxes and wanes, but the ‘constancy of your tenacity is based on the degree to which you can access, ignite and control it’. With that in mind, Perlis suggests the below characteristics, so you can get to know and manage your grit better.

Five Characteristics of Grit

● Courage – the ability to manage your fear of failure is a predictor of success. Courage helps fuel grit; the two are symbiotic, feeding into and off of each other.

● Conscientiousness – not just being dependable – but being focused on achievement.  Going for gold, not just showing up for practice.

● Follow Through (long-term goals and endurance) – Practice, practice, practice and put the hours in.

● Resilience – The ability to keep going even when faced with obstacles is crucial to grit. (Read more about resilience).

● Excellence over perfection. Where perfection is binary, unforgiving and inflexible, excellence embraces failure and vulnerability and prioritises progress I wrote about the problem with perfection here).

How do I get more?

Like everything, grit comes and goes. Sometimes you have more of it, and sometimes less.

In his article 4 proven ways to develop more grit Tanner Christensen outlines four areas of focus:

1. Practice
Deliberate practice means learning as you go, getting feedback from your experience as well as from others.

2. Purpose
Purpose is not necessarily a ‘natural calling’ – it is anything you can develop a strong interest in over the long term.

3. Hope
Embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and improve means we’re more likely to succeed in future attempts. Start with hope, and learn that it’s OK to fail as long as you don’t quit.

4. Time
Make the time to devote yourself to practice, purpose, and developing from failure.