Grit Is What Drives You To Pursue A Goal 24/7
As machines become increasingly accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our cognitive skills. One of your primary responsibilities as a Learning and Development leader is to ensure that you empower the workforce to develop the four sets of skills that are critical to thriving in 2030. A series of articles, eLearning Skills 2030, explores all the skills to make your job easier. This article, the ninth in the eLearning Skills 2030 series, explores building grit, why it is a critical skill, and how to sharpen it.
What Is Grit?
In 2016, during a discussion at the Neue House in New York City, I asked the guest speaker Angela Duckworth whether grit fueled refugees in their journeys to safety. She said she believed so, though her research was focused more on spelling bee students and West Point cadets whose grit was intrinsically motivated. Her book “Grit” defines grit as the power of passion and perseverance. Duckworth even created a grit scale and metrics for passion and perseverance so that you can also self-evaluate your grit in each of its components. Duckworth says the best way to conceptualize grit is to define what grit is not. Grit is not talent, luck, or how much you really want something. Grit is what drives you to pursue a goal, day in and day out, no matter how challenging the odds.
A key element of grit is the tenacity of passionately and consistently persevering over time on your singular goal. In the 2018 Harvard Business Review article Duckworth co-authored with Thomas Lee, she examined the tenacity and grit of high achievers in the medical profession. High achievers always try to improve, even though they are already at the top of their game and love what they do despite all the personal sacrifices they have to make. As renowned Los Angeles-based thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Alexander Marmureanu said when asked to describe a day in his life, ”athletes at the Olympic Games have to have one good day, one good final, or two good weeks to play the tournament. As a surgeon, you always have to be on top of your game, period. Every game, every match for the rest of your life.” This tenacity for the greater good aligns with the definition of authentic grit. In her book “Getting Grit,” Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert and lecturer at Wharton Business School, says that defining grit as passion, resilience, and perseverance is not enough. She defines authentic grit as the positive force that inspires others to want to become better people by imagining greater possibilities. According to Adams Miller, grit is made up of a balance of humility, self-confidence, giving to others, focus, stubbornness, learning from failure, authenticity, and a growth mindset.
Why Is It Important?
Caren Baruch-Feldman, Ph.D.,  says that grit is essential because it is the one ingredient that drives success beyond talent, intelligence, or luck. Coupled with a growth mindset, grit can help you leverage your talent and power through difficulties and succeed. Organizations that foster a culture of grit deliver better business performance outcomes. Duckworth and Lee define gritty organizations as those that clearly articulate their vision and mission, align their resources to that mission, and empower teams that trust each other, work hard and learn together by asking questions, embracing failures, and sharing a strong sense of priorities and focus.
So, How Can You Build Grit?
Duckworth lists two ways to build grit: intrinsically, or from the inside out, and extrinsically, or from the outside in. To build grit from the inside out, she distilled four elements you can concurrently focus on to develop your grit: interest, practice, purpose, and hope.
Identify Your Interest
First, you have to identify your interests and pick the one that makes you feel the most intrigued, passionate, and a little scared. List your interests on a piece of paper. Initially, you may have about 20–25 goals on the list. Next, pick the top three that you feel are your biggest priorities. Then, examine the three prioritized goals on your list. Do they overlap? If so, the goals may be related or subsets to one bigger goal, so the next question you need to ask is, “how are these goals related?”. The answer to the question will likely point you to one overarching interest with a few varying elements. If the three goals are not readily related, ask yourself which would likely inspire you and select that one.
Athletes and musicians know the importance of practice. As the maxim goes, to get to Carnegie Hall, you have to “practice, practice, practice.” To develop grit, you must practice deliberately and continuously daily to improve your capabilities around the interest you selected. You must challenge yourself to exceed your skill a little every day.
Define Your Purpose
To continue pursuing your goal, you must identify your “why” and your sense of purpose, and tie your interest and practice to it. Here, you have to dig deep because your purpose needs to be several layers deep so that it can sustain you through the difficult times. A sense of purpose acts as a compass, always pointing you in the right direction, especially when you feel tired, disappointed, or lost. Purpose helps you articulate why and how your work is essential to you and others.
While Duckworth lists hope last in her book, she clarifies that hope is an element baked in the other three: interest, practice, and purpose. Hope is the spark that will keep you interested, prod you to practice one more time, and remind you why you are doing all that you do. Hope is the belief that everything you are going through, including the failures, the pain, and the sacrifice, is worthwhile in the end.
While you cultivate your own grit, you must also help your team build grit as a group. You can do this by focusing on each individual member and the team as a whole. You will need to help each member identify their interest and focus on practicing. As a team, you must set up opportunities for the team to learn together, practice together, and define the team’s purpose together. After that, you relentlessly go after your performance goals. Grit is a foundational skill every team member will need today and tomorrow, leading to 2030 and beyond.