There’s a new trait rising in the ranks of what makes a person successful and no, it’s not IQ – it’s grit.
A few years ago, Angela Duckworth, former teacher-turned-professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, became fascinated with what makes students successful. After many studies of inner-city middle school students in Chicago, National Spelling Bee champions, and even West Point Military cadets, she determined that the unifying factor between those who graduated, won the spelling bee, and made it through summer training was grit.
What is grit
Grit is that signature combination of stubbornness, resourcefulness, creativity, and adaptability that helps someone make the tough climb toward a longterm goal — Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code
Grit is about having the perseverance and passion for your long-term goals (Duckworth, 2007). Perseverance alone doesn’t equal grit, simply “getting through it” isn’t what Angela Duckworth describes as a success. Passion for your goal — what you’ve set out to achieve in the long run – is what sustains a gritty individual through life’s setbacks, challenges, and boredom.
Though related, grit isn’t about achievement either. People who are achievement-oriented are driven to complete manageable goals that allow for immediate feedback on performance (McClelland, 1961) whereas a gritty individual sets long-term goals for themselves and doesn’t waver on them even in the absence of positive feedback (Duckworth, 2007).
When applying this research to work, a gritty person sounds like the perfect teammate. Someone who can commit to achieving a goal over the long haul, and weather challenges without jumping ship. That’s someone you want to have on your team.
Gather a team of gritty people, and there’s nothing you couldn’t do.
Take the example of the Wright Brothers: their life-long passion for flying, sustained even in the face of multiple aircraft failures and challenges, made them the first people to take flight. And by the way, neither of them had a high school diploma.
Creating a gritty team
Just picture it for your team. Swap “gritty individual” with “gritty team” in Angela’s sentence below:
The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.
Now, this isn’t to say that a team should stay the course in all cases; sure there will be times when their strategy is inherently flawed and needs to change. But, barring any significant need for pivots, this is quite an inspiring depiction of a team. One that doesn’t abandon their goal when the next shiny object comes along. One that has long-term commitment to and passion for what they are trying to achieve.
Creating a gritty team sounds like a pretty worthy quest to me. Even though Duckworth’s research is primarily about individuals, there are still a few things that teams can do to foster grit.
1. Set long-term goals that everyone can move toward.
If you were to ask a team what its goals were, I bet you’d get lots of different answers. Everyone on a team is different, and thus interprets the mission of the team differently, unless this is well-defined and communicated. Sit down with your team and develop (or communicate) the common goal you are all working toward. Make it a long-term goal, think big. What does your team aspire to? What goal is so lofty it would take years to accomplish? That’s the long-term type of goal your team members need to stay dedicated in the face of setbacks and failures.
2. Expect failure and learn from it.
Speaking of failure, that is all part of it! Instead of conditioning your team to be fearful of failure, see it as a valuable learning opportunity. Discuss failures often as a team (each person sharing a failure so that no one is singled out) and talk through what was learned that can help the team do better next time. Ignoring failure will only create an achievement-oriented team (which, by the way, will never achieve those big hairy audacious goals).
3. Work with intensity but also with stamina.
If you want to develop a gritty team, you must avoid burnout. What’s the point of getting work done if it kills your team in the process? Three words: work. life. balance. Stamina will be the true staying power for your team.
And, if you ever get discouraged along the way, just channel your inner-John Wayne.
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Also published on Medium.