INsight/ Are You Gritty?

Photo by Chan on Unsplash

Photo by Chan on Unsplash


Manila, 21 November 2018 — When you fail, how soon do you try again? Today we look at what high achievers do to succeed and what you can learn from that.

More than IQ

Psychologists have long studied why some people achieve more success than others. It is now well known that IQ by itself is not a reliable predictor of success. For one, Howard Gardner showed us that we possess multiple intelligences, and that all play a role in what we’re good and not so good at.

Going further, Martin Seligman took the lead in showing interventions that motivate performance and prevent depression. He went on to found a new branch of research (Positive Psychology) that focuses on resilience, strengths and well-being as opposed to disorders.

And then, Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets showed us how higher performance becomes more likely when adults and children embrace a growth mindset and disengage from the more habitual fixed mindset each time we are in a new situation.

All of those advances in research did, however, not satisfy the many questions in the mind of one woman who, doggedly, set out to understand more about what makes high achievers successful. That woman is Angela Lee Duckworth, who came to the US when her parents migrated there from China.

A Road Less Traveled

Being a migrant, Duckworth explains that she had an underdog mentality because of the way she was raised, with her father challenging her constantly on the road to higher achievements, just as he challenged himself too. When he told his daughter that she was no genius, it sparked in her a strong urge to become her very best.

Her journey to date has been remarkable, shifting from management consultant to high-school teacher, founder of an educational nonprofit, researcher in psychology, to becoming a well-recognized professor at Penn. And then, in 2013, she was informed that she had been awarded the MacArthur Genius Fellowship, one of the most sought after awards in the US.

From ‘no genius’ to receiving the US’s exclusive genius award, there is much to learn from Duckworth’s research and her personal experiences and insights. As it turned out, there is a lot of meaning to be discovered in her journey, and she has helped us do just that.

With her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth has used her extensive research among adults and children in the US to introduce us the world of Grit, which she has defined as ‘passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.’ Her book has quickly become a bestseller among educators, trainers, and managers in countries around the world.

I warmly recommend that you watch the short 6-minute TED talk she gave in 2013, which was three years before she finished her book, which, she says, has been “my way of taking you out for a coffee and telling you what I know.”

Watch Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk

Watch Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk

What Grit Means

To summarize what Duckworth has shared with us in her book is a very tall order indeed, so I suggest that you get your own copy and read it for yourself. For one, you will discover how effort counts more than talent for achieving high performance. You will see how being gritty is about working relentlessly towards long-term goals. And, you will learn that there are two ways to grow your grit, just as I am teaching that there are two ways to develop your leadership, that is, from the inside out and from the outside in.

What I will do here is to focus on three elements that struck me as particularly important if, like me, you have embarked on a journey to develop your leadership and want to grow more leaders around you.

Are you with me on that?

I have put my main three learnings from Duckworth’s book in the context of the Three Worlds Model that I use to help you gain a more integral view of the three worlds (perspectives) that you inhabit simultaneously: your personal world, your observed world, and your social world.

Here are my three points of learning to share with you.

1. Practicing Your Attitude

I already asked how soon you get up and try again after you fail. This is at the heart of Grit and it has everything to do with your attitude, your discipline and self-control, and how in your Personal World you are adopting a growth mindset or let yourself stay stuck in a fixed mindset.

The element that I particularly valued in Duckworth’s book is her explanation that practice, while essential, is simply not enough, no matter how many hours, months and years you keep it up. It is the quality of your practice that matters most, plus your endurance to keep it up for many years. She calls it deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice means that you make a conscious effort to improve your performance every time you practice, with a specific target for improvement, and with the help of a coach. Now, that raises the question, why you are practicing in the first place. What is your passion, your calling as it were, that you want to achieve most of all?

Discovering your passion, and developing it, is a process too, explains Duckworth, and it starts with getting attracted and interested. Over time, and with much practice, you can find the passion that will define your main quest in your career, your professional journey that you are willing to give all of your energy to when you are at work.

You can think of that passion as your top-level professional goal.

2. Choosing Your Goal

Being driven by holistic thinking as I often am, I have found it a challenge to focus on just one goal. In any situation, I tend to see many perspectives, leading to many possible solutions. That often makes it harder for me to make choices, and to recommend definitive solutions to others. Hence, perhaps, my preference for helping people—through coaching—to work out what will be the best solution in their situation.

I was not surprised, therefore, when I scored 3.9 on the Duckworth’s Grit Scale when I took it for the first time. The scale is from 1 to 5 with 5 being the most gritty, and 1 being not gritty at all. My score showed me to be grittier than 60% of the US adult population, I read in the book, and I wondered if that was all there was to it for me.

Then I continued reading on in her book, and I came to the section where she explains about the importance for gritty people to limit the number of the professional life goals they pursue to, preferably, only One!

That set me thinking, and I did my homework on revisiting my life goals—something I do every year—and I realized that while it seemed to me that I had jumped between goals quite often over the past years, I had, in fact, been persevering in pursuit of one main goal for most of my career so far, and that is to use thought leadership from East and West to help high achievers (people and organizations) transform and create positive change.

To get to that short sentence, it helped me to see how Duckworth had formulated her own top-level professional goal, which is to use psychological science to help kids thrive. Well, with more work, I can perhaps shorten my goal description to something as short as hers. However, I’m happy with what I came up with already.

When I worked out a hierarchy among my multiple professional goals, I could see how they contributed to each other and to my top-level goal. I experienced a feeling of liberation in going through that process. Then, with my new recognition of what matters most to me in my professional life, I took the Grit Scale again, and found that my score had increased to 4.4, showing a grittiness higher than 85% of the reference population. How did that make me feel?

Well, I think I seriously ‘caught the Grit bug’ from immersing myself in Duckworth’s research, because I came out feeling energized to focus even more on advancing to my professional goal. What a feeling and what an experience!

What matters is, of course, not my feeling after reading the book, but what I will do with it tomorrow, next week, next month, and over the next years.

That’s Grit!

Leader@Grit Model.jpg

3. Engaging Your Support

The road to become a grittier person and leader is, as the concept implies, a tough one. A key message in Duckworth’s book is therefore, based on her research, that this road is best traveled together with like-minded fellow travelers.

She makes a powerful case for engaging in your deliberate practice, for whatever your goal is, with the help of one or more coaches and mentors. Throughout the stories in her book, describing her research and how she learns from fellow researchers, it is the emphasis on collaboration that stood out for me.

The road to growing your grit is a road that you best travel with a strong support system. This reminded me of the adage that Leadership is a Contact Sport. You need to do some serious work in your Social World to build the relationships that will support you on your journey to become a gritty high achiever and thereby inspire many people around you.

In Sum...

Keep in mind these three elements.

Deliberate Practice is what will help you to grow your gritty Attitude.

Choosing One Goal for your professional career will help you immensely to align what you do towards that one top-level Goal, which is about your Passion, and which can turn out to become your Calling in life.

Finally, you need to Engage Supporters to travel with you on your journey and accompany you through the many ups and especially downs.

That’s how Gritty Leaders Stand Out, based on what I learned from Angela Duckworth’s book. Go read it soon!

Meanwhile, what better time than Now to get started using this model to empower you on your leadership journey, and this time with ever growing amounts of Grit!

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