to increase your work performance, increase your grit
Editor Picks | April 16, 2015
“You can’t get to ‘great’ without ‘grit’.” –Dr. Paul G. Stoltz, Author of GRIT: The New Science of What it Takes to Persevere
I’ve written before about the importance of “grit” to anyone who is thinking of becoming an entrepreneur. And as my fellow Forbes contributor Josh Linkner has pointed out, it’s the single highest characteristic venture capitalists are looking for in the founders and companies they are willing to fund.
The topic came up again recently when I became acquainted with Dr. Paul Stoltz, the CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., who is a bona fide expert on grit. He’s been studying the concept for the past 30 years. In his recent interview with me, Stoltz recalled his first major research project, on entrepreneurial DNA. During the project he asked the participants about the entrepreneurs they admired the most. Immediately he began noting the “stories behind the stories” they told. He heard about individuals who’d worked through personal hardship, handicaps, impoverished beginnings, and who made incredible sacrifices as they worked to create the companies that allowed them to eventually succeed.
Stoltz began to recognize the common thread—each of the individuals who stood out as exceptionally high business performers exhibited a high level of grit. So in future presentations, he began to ask leading questions as he presented to business leaders, such as the following:
“When you bring someone in, who would you hire—the person with perfect skills and qualifications or the person who is perhaps missing some of the pieces but demonstrates extraordinary grit.”
There was little question, 98% of the audience chose grit. “And when you had that person working for you, how was that characteristic embodied?”
The audience seemed to rhapsodize as they shared their responses. “He just got things done.” “Nothing stops her.” “He always finds a way to succeed and excel.”
Then came the clincher: “How many normal employees would you trade for that person?” The answer was consistent, across 20,000 employer respondents: 7.3. “And how many leaders would you trade?” The answer was even more astonishing: 8.4.
“What blows my mind,” says Stoltz, “was that these people were openly stating they’d trade an entire team of people for just one who demonstrates optimal grit.”
In Stoltz’s writings and his book he quantifies GRIT within a system that he uses to assess Growth, Resilience, Instinct, Tenacity (GRIT) that come together with Robustness, which he designates as R+. He also admonishes executives to consider not only the quantity but also the quality of their grit.
For example, we’ve all known at least a person or two who is doggedly persistent at achieving a goal, come hell or high water, but is less judicious in making sure they are aiming for the best possible goal. A streak of starting meetings on time 100 times in a row may be a worthy achievement, but compared to the goal of releasing a quality product on time, is it the optimal goal for applying your hardest work for no-fail achievement?
Another example of less than optimal grit would be the body builder or marathon runner who forges onward in the face of pain and injury to the extent that a small injury becomes so great that it requires major surgery and extensive time away from participation in the desired activity at all.
So how do we improve both the quantity and the quality of our grit? Stoltz suggests the following:
1. Consider the why versus the try. When you look at the goals you’re currently pursuing, how strong is your “why” in relation to your “try”? You need to align them Stoltz maintains. “If your ‘why’ exceeds your ‘try’, perhaps you have a nonprofit,” he said. But for a traditional business, if there’s an imbalance, it may be no wonder you’re not hitting profitability.
2. Determine which things you’re doing represent your most worthy goals. Sometimes we assume “more is more”—that setting more goals produces more results. Not true. As you look at the goals you’re currently setting, is each one of them still the right goal, or the best version of the goal? It’s helpful to do periodic “gut checks” to ensure the goals you’re pursuing are still the objectives that matter the most.
3. Learn to distinguish good grit from bad. “I don’t think I’ve ever met an entrepreneur who hasn’t confessed to bad grit,” Stoltz remarks. We know them well. The workaholic executives who achieve a business goal at the expense of spouse and family and at the end of the achievement realize with remorse that in the scheme of things, the dogged persistence didn’t matter at all.
Stoltz makes an insightful analogy when he notes that some people operate like cheap sandpaper. They enter every project with a lot of grit, but it wears off quickly. For those who are interested, he offers a link to a fairly in-depth self-assessment for those who purchase his book. (I’ve taken it myself. Yes, I’m gritty.)
But meanwhile, the fastest way to assess and develop more grit of your own may be to test yourself by answering the following questions:
- Can you overcome setbacks, or do you get easily discouraged?
- Do you stick with your projects, or do you move on to new ones every few months?
- Are you obsessed for the long term, or do you lose interest after a while?
- Do you set and keep your goals, or do you toss and take on new ones regularly?
- Do you achieve your goals even when it takes years?
- Can you accept criticism without losing steam?
- Can your ego handle admitting you need help?
Here’s to the development of more and better “smart tenacity” towards the pursuit of your grittiest goals. I look forward to hearing about your results.