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Getting Gritty: What’s Needed to Finish 2020

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Until a few years ago, many of us thought of grit as either something on our shoe, or perhaps the original or remake of the famous John Wayne movie, “True Grit.” In my world, add an “s” on the end and you have a Southern table mainstay. Enter Angela Duckworth and her research on the topic of grit. Her work has reshaped how many are thinking about this four-letter word as a key determinant and differentiator in how we show up in life and business, especially in the throes of 2020.

Personally, I’m tempted to liken it to perseverance and even say that it’s a close cousin to resiliency. But it’s not, says Duckworth. It’s different.

Perseverance is associated with a steadfastness on mastering skills or completing a task. Resiliency is defined narrowly as the ability to bounce back after adversity. Duckworth’s research determined that grit is the ability to sustain interest and effort in working toward longer term goals. In addition, it translates into the deference of immediate gratification through self-control.

Consider Elon Musk and his SpaceX venture. On April 8th, 2016, in the fifth attempt, SpaceX accomplished the task of launching a payload into space and landing the first-stage rocket safely on a floating barge in the middle of the ocean. ( The long-held vision and mission continued May 30 this year as two astronauts were the first crew to fly on the first commercially built spacecraft just a few weeks ago. And, just last week, SpaceX, continued exploration by launching its third set of satellites in just three weeks.

What led the team to keep trying, even after their first attempts failed? Musk himself is quoted as having said of their first flight: "If the vehicle does not become reusable, I will consider us to have failed." They missed the mark of their goal repeatedly and yet they didn't give up. Why?

Back to Duckworth, a former schoolteacher turned psychologist, who then went on to become a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s studied the behavior of students, business leaders, team members, and healthcare patients. Through the diligence of thousands of data points, she was able to boil down ultimate success to one thing. She and her team found that it’s not IQ, socio-economic status, emotional intelligence or many of the other behaviors or traits you might think. It’s this one unassuming word – GRIT.

Have You Got Grit?

Duckworth developed a surprisingly simple 10 question grit quiz that can help you determine your grittiness. It just takes a couple of minutes, so no grit is required for completion. Regardless of your score, here’s the good news – we can all learn grit. We’re not snapshots – we’re all movies. Multiple studies have also shown a correlation between age and grit. The older we are, the grittier we can be. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(6):1087-101 · July 2007)

Want to Get Grittier?

What one or two things do you most need to work on to become grittier? If you took the quiz, start by looking at the areas in which you scored the lowest. If you didn’t take the quiz, and you’re faced with business situation that will require more grit, call on these three actions:

· Purpose – Since grit emerges as an ally of the long view, remind yourself and team of the bigger purpose and ROI daily. Work with your team members to help them develop more grit through constant encouragement, while reminding them of their purpose and role in the greater mission. Keep focusing the team back on WHY you’re here, not what you do or how you do it. The WHY and the values behind the purpose or WHY is the North Star. Everything else is always a candidate for change – whether it’s because customers and market dynamics are always shifting, or because a lifetime a pandemic can hit that disrupts everything – EXCEPT purpose.

· Practice – To start the process, first practice. Ask your team members to recall their most difficult times in life and business. Walk them through how they overcame those seemingly insurmountable situations that at the time seemed daunting and overwhelming. What did they learn at that time they can use today to mitigate or work through the current downturn? We learn grit by being in situations that require it. The more we can recall times when we’ve had to press into difficult situations, the more we are able to bring back the skills and approaches we used that were successful.

· Possibilities – To press in, get gritty, and move ahead, we must let go of what we’ve always known. Challenge each person to release any holdbacks, sacred cows or limiting beliefs. Having the team identify what they may be hanging on to that’s creating any interference can be the hardest part. A tangible activity such as writing down the lingering issue on a piece of paper and having each person throw it in the trash can be a symbolic first step. Engaging the group in defining the price of status quo and the pay-off of moving in a new direction can be monumental in helping create the needed mental clarity and fortitude in blazing forward.

Next, unleash the new possibilities by bringing together idea groups or think sessions. Who are the people in your organization with diverse experiences who may only typically be leveraged within their function? Is it time to tap their brain trust in other ways? You may be surprised at what you learn. Their ideas about potential new deliverables or approaches tied to the same purpose yet delivered in a novel way may be the ones that create the needed lift for turnaround and growth. Look to other industries for cues. What moves have others made that are making a positive mark yet preserving the mission?

By focusing on these three P’s you’ll get more grit. Guaranteed. And, as a bonus, it may be the one ingredient that is game changing for you, your team and organization in staying steadfast during shifting times.

©PERFORMANCEPOINTE, Inc. 2018 All Rights Reserved.

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