If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. ~ Fred DeVito
It seems like a long time since I was able to write a Management Minute actually focused on management! In fact, when I last wrote in late February, we were very focused on the rescheduled Annual Conference and I promised to return to the theme of perseverance and resilience and talk about a term from the education and psychology field that I both admire and believe in. The term is "grit".
You might recall from that February column that grit means having a long-term tenacity and drive – over the course of sometimes years or decades – to achieve goals. Grit also implies the strong presence of other key human characteristics including courage, conscientiousness, endurance and follow-thru, resilience and excellence.
Some of the characteristics of grit are rather easy to identify ourselves with because we recognize that successful endeavors often embody the need for courage, commitment and ability to overcome challenges. But some have argued, and I would agree, that there's much more to this idea of grit than these adjectives. It has to do with going after things you want to achieve even if failure is a likely option. It is knowing, even in failure, that the experience is the reward itself, the mere effort teaches you something you never knew and your life experience is enhanced only if for the sake of the attempt itself. It means that when setbacks are imminent, you push because the passion you feel for the endeavor far outweighs any recognition you may ever receive. It's a mindset and not based on intrinsic talent, skill or ability but rather on belief in your own potential for growth and the joy that comes from simply experiencing something just for the pure love of it. In fact, some describe it as falling in love with a passion and staying in love with that passion over a long time. When you have real grit, I'm not sure you give a lot of thought to what you are doing or over-rationalize why you are doing it. Rather, you are entrenched with your work ethic, self-awareness and the ability to see yourself and other outcomes in a future that looks different than today.
When speaking to students, sometimes I get the question about how I arrived at this point in my career and what steps I took to get there. I kept going back through my career and could not really identify truly defining moments. But when I contemplated things that happened in my life, my upbringing and other exposures as a kid growing up in a blue collar family with both parents working split shifts in factory settings and raising five kids, the answer became more apparent. Part of why I am who I am is because of grit. I set my sights on things that were outrageously impossible and pursued them, sometimes with wild abandon. Even when I had self-doubt, I ignored it. This mindset has contributed to my life over and over again and, never once, have I regretted a pursuit even if I could not ultimately count it as a success.
If you subscribe to the theory of grit, you can also see how it could be transformational in terms of raising up those who may not be exposed to the same advantages in terms of income, education and other social determinants. So, there could be something to teaching the value of grit to our kids. In fact, in California, there are schools that are now actually grading kids (and their schools) on grit.
From a management perspective, it's also our responsibility to recognize and reward grit in our staff. When I read countless résumés and interview dozens of potential employees, I look for grit. It's easier to recognize than you might imagine. I'm often as interested in learning about people's backgrounds as I am in their education and work experience. How those things come together can really provide an interesting perspective on the candidate and how they respond to diversity, change, opportunities and challenges, and working with others. It's a great attribute to explore in a new recruit.
Can you think of some of your own experiences when you got your grit on or how it has served you in your own life? Your comments, counter-points, suggestions, or thoughts are always welcomed. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.