Gritty-Up Everybody!

By Mike Lessiter, President, Lessiter Media

From the Mike Drop column of the July 2018 Lessiter Link newsletter

I’m going to say it. I grew up with generic snacks, just 2 warm-weather vacations and sports without playing-time rules. Without the constant eyes of authority, trouble was found as often as fun, but you owned both. There were scrapes and fights, and the humility of losing. Math and Chemistry were taught at the pace chosen by the teacher and students had to figure out how to keep up. Teachers, coaches and bosses didn’t care about feelings or excuses. You earned your money. You got out into the world, and you got there on your bike. 

Despite the comforts of my kids’ generation, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for theirs. (Well, except for the notion of getting a date ... I might’ve had more “game” in today’s text-message era.) 

Back in those old days, we had more opportunities — and more expectations — to develop grit, a term also known by words like resolve, tenacity, determination, pursuit, “stick-to-itiveness” and endurance. 

“Talent is common; what you invest to develop that talent is the final measure of greatness …”.   Anson Dorrance

Some of you have heard the real-world examples of passion and perseverance via this year’s “How We Did It” podcasts. These interviews spurred me to take a deeper dive into Grit, a best-seller by psychologist and first-time author Angela Duckworth. My copy has 69 dog-eared pages out of 277. 

Why is grit important? Because the struggle tells you more about yourself than any easily-found success, and it keeps in perspective that the “burn” of the journey is as important as the finish line. 

“I worry about people who cruise through life, friction-free, for a long time before encountering their first real failure,” Duckworth says. “They have so little practice falling and getting up again. They have so many reasons to stick with a fixed mindset.” 

Duckworth’s studies quantitatively conclude that grittier people are happier, make fewer career changes and stick to their commitments. In other words, they finish the race. Grit is evident in a lot of the Core Values here, which we mined before grit was getting national headlines. There are quite a few paragons of grit right here in our building, including our founders. 

Just as important as understanding grit and its origins, Duckworth’s analysis concludes that industriousness, intelligence and grit can be deepened — even discovered — at any stage. Plus, there’s a social multiplier effect by participating in a gritty environment. As she says, to be a great swimmer, you want to join the greatest swim team you can. 

Duckworth says that all mature grit paragons possess 4 traits: an interest, a capacity to practice and resist complacency, a purpose and finally, hope. We’re all going to be knocked down at some point; deciding whether to give up or persevere are often the hardest choices. “If we stay down, grit loses,” she says. “If we get up, grit wins.” 

I’ve had hiring responsibilities since 1993. I’ve realized how many hours of interview time I’ve endured as candidates bragged on their successes. Focusing too much on talent actually distracts us from effort. Duckworth proves that however much that talent counts, effort counts double because of its impact on both skills acquisition and achievement. 

What we should be recognizing are the failures and trials. The biggest disappointments they had in their lives. How they pulled themselves up and finished the race. As we prepare for the transitional changes ahead in our people assets, I’ll be looking for it. And now that the entire business world has tuned into grit, we won’t be alone. 

Find out where you are on the grit scale at