GRIT: Growth, Rigor, Integrity, Tenacity

February 21, 2017

Like any parent, I want my children to grow up to be successful. I also believe that success should not be measured merely in terms of a job or career, but in terms of satisfaction with all areas of one’s life.

To reach this level of success, I encourage my kids to fail early and often, build self-control and self-confidence, try new sports and extracurricular activities, be competitive with themselves and compassionate with others, and to follow their own interests.

I’ve learned about the importance of grit, and specifically the importance of grit over talent. Like many, I had grown up thinking some people were simply more talented than I was: whether this was in math, music, sports or just about anything where I witnessed a true professional demonstrate his or her abilities. I summed it up thinking, well, I didn’t win the gene pool lottery so I can’t do that.

“Mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook,” writes Angela Duckworth, the celebrated researcher and professor, in her book Grit. “It lets us relax into the status quo. That’s what undoubtedly occurred in my early days of teaching when I mistakenly equated talent and achievement, and by doing so, removed effort—both my students’ and my own—from further consideration.”

But Duckworth presents a compelling case with the research to back it up that grit and the power of passion and perseverance ultimately leads to achievement.

“Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters,” she writes. “But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

Duckworth found that the psychological assets in “mature paragons of grit” have the following elements in common:

  1. Interest – Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what it is you do.
  2. Practice – One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. And deliberate practice is especially important.
  3. Purpose – What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.
  4. Hope – Hope is rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance.

Each of these are helpful in overcoming a more fixed mind-set with regard to reaching success. Each can help you reach the success you’re looking for—whether that’s in your own professional growth or that of your children’s future. You can determine your own level of grit using Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

As I practice my own understanding of grit, I tend to hesitate more often before rescuing my children from their immediate struggles. I urge them to use deliberate practice in their efforts to improve skills. I encourage them to explore a new interest without regard to whether or not they are immediately good at it. And I try to set an example by continually trying new things myself because I know the more I demonstrate my own humility and acceptance of failure as a part of the path to success, the more likely they are to accept and adopt this as normal.

When I think about grit, I tend to see it as a combination of growth, rigor, integrity and tenacity. For me, these are the essential elements that help foster achievement.

Growth – Reaching any level of success requires a growth mind-set. Only with the notion of continually learning can anyone expect to really know and demonstrate any skill. Growth should be constant and an essential element of grit.

Rigor – Grit requires the rigor of discipline and precision in order to reach success. This is best exemplified in the deliberate practice necessary to achieve anything. Without rigorous effort, no skill can be fully reached.

Integrity – Most often thought of as doing the right thing when no one is watching, integrity in this sense has to do with following your own internal compass and following through on what is essential to who you are and not who others may want you to be. This is about purpose.

Tenacity – The idea of courage of mind as well as fortitude and resilience in tenacity are vitally important in grit. No one can fully reach their success without tenacious effort in the face of so much resistance coming both internally and externally.

As you reflect on your own efforts toward success, how does your grit scale impact this and what are doing to overcome it?

Leadership, Grit & Russell Wilson

January 22, 2015

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly reference popular figures who demonstrate great leadership. These leaders are often found in business or politics, but lately I’ve been referring to those in my local sports team: the Seattle Seahawks.

Witness the recent NFC Championship game where by the middle of the fourth quarter mere mortals would have admitted defeat and accepted that a repeat trip to the Super Bowl was no longer possible. But quarterback Russell Wilson and his teammates demonstrate incredible grit that enables them to withstand any setback and persevere.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals,” says psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. It is about living life like it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You can view her discussion on the importance of grit in a TED talk. Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective, according to Wikipedia.

Though some may claim the result of that football game was due more to a collapse by the Green Bay Packers, it’s hard to argue that the Seahawks could have won without remaining positive and focused to the very end. Sure they needed luck on their side, which the Packers had plenty of in the first half, but they also needed to execute plays and persevere.

Despite winning last year’s Super Bowl, many outside of the Pacific Northwest may not fully appreciate this football team due to the national media’s tendency to marginalize many of its players and their tendency to focus on a stereotypical tall, white, pocket-passing quarterback who fits their promotion profile. Wilson doesn’t look, sound or move like Payton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. But he’s beaten them all. In fact, he’s 10-0 against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson wasn’t selected until the third round (75th overall) of the 2012 draft because most teams considered him too small to be an effective NFL quarterback. However, general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll saw something special in the 5’11” Wilson beyond his stature and resume. It’s the kind of “special” they specialize in finding as 40% of their current roster were undrafted. And that special quality is best summed up as grit.

In this age of offensive-minded, pass-heavy and high scoring football, few appreciate Wilson’s skill-set. He’s been repeatedly knocked as simply a “game manager” rather than one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Some argue it is because of Seattle’s dominating defense and strong rushing game that requires so little from him.

From my standpoint, a great leader is someone who is measured by his overall effectiveness and outcomes rather than how well he fits a narrowly defined role. Defining a great quarterback should not be with regard to pass completions, overall passing yards, touchdowns or even QB rating, but in team wins and championships.

Recognizing grit in people is difficult and it is often inversely related to talent. Many of the grittiest players that make up the current Seahawks were obviously not viewed as talented because so many teams passed on them. See All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who was drafted in the fifth round, and undrafted clutch wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Strong leadership is not a quality one can attain single-handedly either. It can only be judged based on how well the team, company or organization ultimately performs—whether that is measured in wins, championships or long-term profitability.

Russell Wilson and many players on the Seahawks demonstrate strong leadership due to their athletic ability, work ethic, and mostly in the grit they possess. It is what separated the Seahawks from other teams over the past couple of years and like all advantages, it is one other teams will try to emulate.

Grit is a quality that translates outside the sports world and into every aspect of life, including business. When you are looking for talent to add to your human capital, keep an eye out for grit. Though it may be more difficult to immediately identify, you will be rewarded greatly when you see it in action.

Go Hawks!