“Grit”… a Foundation for Leaders

Almost three years ago, I wrote an essay titled “The Importance of Grit”(http://ift.tt/2vMct2q , where I discussed the work that Professor Angela Duckworth had done on the role of “Grit” vs. IQ as a predictor of academic success in students.  In that essay, I suggested that this concept of “Grit” not only rang home for me in the academic context that Professor Duckworth referenced, but it was directly relevant to my experiences in business.  Now almost three years later, I am more confident than even that the relevancy and importance of “Grit” in the professional landscape is significant and I want to go further today that we need to think about “grittiness” as a required, “foundational” skill/attribute for leaders.

As a reminder, Professor Duckworth defined “grit” as the combination of “passion, perseverance and stamina,” and her research suggested that a student’s “grittiness” had a  stronger correlation for academic success than a student’s IQ scores.  My professional experience, now for over thirty two years, reinforces this finding in the professional business environment.  The most successful executives, and specifically the most successful business leaders that I have had the chance to work with were not always the smartest folks in the room.  Usually it was a mix of an individual’s “passion, perseverance and stamina” (their “Grit”), combined with a unique set of skills, experiences and motivation that won the day.  I don’t think this is only true historically.  In today’s VERY high tempo change-filled, highly competitive workplace the leaders that are succeeding today need a lot more than high IQ’s to find enduring success.

“Grit” for Senior Leaders:  I currently have the chance (and honor) in my consulting practice to work with a number of C-suite level executives across numerous industries and company sizes.  While each individual is dealing with radically different business/marketplace dynamics, a center point in each of my discussions is the need to “persevere” through times of change/challenge and to have the patience and “stamina” to face the truth of the challenges ahead and to lead their organizations with personal commitment/”passion” through the rough spots ahead.  Without realizing it, I have been “coaching Grit” all through 2017!  We can’t have a false expectation that any executive is so smart that they can out think the challenges of the marketplace.  Innovation is happening too quickly, competition is moving dramatically, change and challenges are accelerating in ways that senior business leaders will simply not be able to “out smart”!  As an example imagine if you were a senior executive at Walmart or Kroger today.  Five years ago (or maybe even five quarters ago) the idea that Amazon would be a major threat for the grocery dollar in America would have been nowhere on the horizon but earlier this year with the announcement of Amazon buying Whole Foods, the market caps of both Kroger and Walmart took a major hit.  “Smarts” alone will not succeed competitively vs. Amazon, but I assure you that “perseverance” and “stamina” will be required in large supply!

Teaching “Grit”:  This idea of “grit” as a foundation skill/attribute for leaders clearly rings true to me. As many of you know, I deeply believe that great leaders are also great teachers, and interestingly my most widely read essay is on that topic, “A teachable point of view”(http://ift.tt/2vtFm0E).   .  As leaders, we have a huge impact on our teams by what we prioritize and what we reward.  We need to find ways to actually allow our teams to struggle and face challenges, as ways to “build muscle” on “perseverance.”  We need to allow competitive challenges or market place dynamics to push our teams into having to endure setbacks over time to “build muscle” on “stamina.”  Finally, we need to find the spark of “passion” inside ourselves, and share it openly with our teams, in order to inspire our organizations to have the courage or confidence to step up and share their “passion” for the business/enterprise/brand/mission themselves.  Great leaders are great teachers and we need to find more ways to “teach grit” now more than ever.

This essay could continue, thinking about how to interview for “grit”, or how to help frontline leaders foster “grit” among their teams, etc.  My focus today is to suggest that the business landscape ahead will be more dynamic, more challenging, higher tempo, with more change than the landscape historically and now more than ever we need to prioritize organizational “grittiness” in order to create “success” in times of accelerating “change”!