by Achim Nowak


July 6, 2020


You need Grit in Leadership. Let me actually use the term Grit Leadership. You may have a solid hunch of what I mean by this term but perhaps you aren’t entirely sure?

First thoughts. When I hear Grit, I think of …

  • The word gritty. Like a little rough around the edges.
  • True Grit, the old John Wayne movie for which he won an Academy Award. Not a pleasant association these days, given Wayne’s deeply entrenched white supremacist views.

Let us consider, instead, the much more enlightened work of psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” This is the question Duckworth examines: Why do some super-smart people never fully realize their potential while others with lesser IQs outperform them in the long run? One of the differentiators, Duckworth suggests, is our ability to harness Grit. Grit is the sweet spot where passion and perseverance come together to work through challenges.

That instinctively makes sense, doesn’t it?

 And whoa, is our ability to harness Grit ever relevant in these supremely challenged times we’re in. These times DEMAND Grit Leadership.

In a series of six studies, Duckworth tested the thesis that individuals who possess a drive to tirelessly work through challenges to achieve their goals are uniquely positioned to reach higher achievements than others who lack similar stamina. Duckworth developed a two-factor Grit scale with notable results. Here are just a few of her thought-provoking findings:

  • Higher levels of Grit were directly associated with a higher cumulative grade point average (GPA) in an Ivy League research sample when compared to those with lower Grit levels.
  • Grit predicted retention after their first summer in two classes of cadets at the United States Military Academy.
  • Participants in a National Spelling Bee with higher Grit scores typically work harder and longer than less gritty peers, ultimately resulting in better performance.

Duckworth’s research ruffled more than a few academic feathers. Her findings challenged the prevailing reliance on intelligence as a key indicator for future achievement.

Let’s relate the practice of Grit (Grit = passion + perseverance) to how you maneuver through these unprecedented coronavirus times. At work, at home. A simplistic understanding of Grit might lead us to believe that well, it’s just about working harder. Doing more. Digging in. No. That isn’t it.

4 Behaviors That Exemplify Grit Leadership

Here are 4 specific Grit behaviors that exemplify Grit Leadership and will help you better move through any unexpected challenges:

How to have more grit

    1. Take the long-term view.

It is easy to get frustrated with current circumstances. They suck. Circumstances are not what you want them to be. You know, of course, that circumstances will eventually change, they always do. But they aren’t changing as quickly as you would like. Instead of wallowing in what isn’t, switch your focus to where you would like to end up. Commit to the simple actions that will move you in that direction.

When I was in my 40s I worked a full-time job and went back to Graduate School, at the same time. Anyone who has returned to school while working full-time knows what this experience is like. There is never enough time. It seems impossible to get everything done. Keeping the eye on the end game makes it immeasurably easier to move through the challenging days. That’s Grit!

    1. Make sacrifices.

It feels like a cliche to say this – but yeah, we live in an “I want it right now” culture. Coronavirus circumstances have been, and continue to be, a powerful teacher in what making a temporary sacrifice looks like. So you like to have a nice dinner out once in a while? For many of us, this option was taken away for a few months. Mandated sacrifice. Now restaurants where you live are open – and yet, perhaps you don’t feel fully safe in a restaurant just yet. Will you continue the no-restaurant-dining sacrifice when you consider your health and safety? Grit Leadership means I embrace a mindset that Is comfortable with making a short-term sacrifice. It doesn’t whine and whine about the sacrifice.

I have written 3 books. Each book began with a contract to write the book and a deadline to write it. My sacrifice to complete my manuscripts? I decided to write every weekend, all day Saturday and all Sunday, with only the occasional evening dinner with a friend. Was that a sacrifice? Sure. But the rewards of this sacrifice were showing themselves to me every weekend as my books were getting written. The sacrifice was so clearly leading me to the attainment of a bigger goal. And THAT felt great.

    1. Remember previous Grit successes.

We forget. We choose to not remember the times when our back was against the wall. When it seemed like we had to summon unexpected strengths to make it through a rough patch. We choose to not remember, perhaps, because those days truly did not seem as enjoyable as some other times in our lives. Perhaps they were not. But remember, you made it through. You got to the other side of exhaustion. That is Grit. If you have done it once you can do it again. That’s the beauty of Grit wisdom. That Is Grit Leadership.

3 days after my mom turned 92, she had a stroke. That year I shuttled between Miami and Bonn 10 times to tend to her and her affairs. If anyone had told me before this turn of events that I would be spending that much time flying across the Atlantic I would have said NEVER. I learned that I can easily work from a hotel room. I learned that my body gets used to that pace of transatlantic travel. I learned, quite simply, that I can do it. And that, if needed, I can do it again. The experience liberated my Grit!

    1. Manage your emotions.

Beware. Your fiery rebel and your reckless inner child may kick in when circumstances ask you to persevere beyond what feels comfortable. They will throw an emotional tantrum – and it won’t be pretty. When the emotions kick in, pause and remember that your emotions are caused by your thoughts. And you are always, always in charge of your thoughts. Observe your thinking. Choose to change your thoughts when your thoughts don’t serve you. When you change your thoughts, your emotions will change as well. It’s not always that simple. But it very, very often actually is.

I jot down these notes during a Holiday weekend in the US. Independence Day. This weekend, you can’t go to the beach in South Florida where I live. There are no fireworks over the ocean this year. You may be fined if you run around in public without a mask. It is a very different sort of 4th of July. This may kick up a whole host of emotions. Check your thoughts. Manage your emotions.

Remember. Grit = passion + perseverance. What a hopeful equation that is.

Duckworth doesn’t propose drudgery + perseverance. Doesn’t suggest Work-I-hate + perseverance.

No, passion.

That’s where Grit Leadership begins. Now go and Grit Up. Be amazed by what you learn about yourself.

Happy post-Independence-Day week.

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