Grit in Effective Leadership

GRIT-mental-toughness1

As the U.S. presidential election goes into full swing following both major conventions, voters will be considering which candidate will serve best as the nation’s leader.  This decision is not an easy one, as both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have some of the worst favorability ratings in history.  Ideally, voters should be thinking about candidates’ character traits, but most will prioritize self-interest and vote based on their pocketbooks.  Media pundits will analyze every insignificant point as if it is…well, significant.  In the face of global terrorism and financial uncertainty, what character trait genuinely sets a successful leader apart?  Problems will arise.  Trouble will come, and leaders who possess intrinsic drive will have the highest chance of overcoming obstacles and external factors in their environment.  We will examines the nature of grit for leaders caught in today’s chaotic world.

Effective leaders have a special quality called “grit,” which refers to a drive to overcome all sorts of hurdles.  People define grit in various ways: according to Gostrengths.com, grit is “a personality trait possessed by individuals who demonstrate passion and perseverance toward a goal despite being confronted by significant obstacles and distractions.”  Along similar lines, blogger AJ Julian wrote an article on grit in education in which he shared an outstanding acronym: Guts, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity.[1]

Although the concept may seem elusive, researchers have found ways to explore the utility of grit.  Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the concept of grit and found that gritty individuals outperform peers who demonstrate more intelligence or aptitude.  Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, studies the performance of “givers.”  Grant notes that givers focuses on the needs of others while takers are more concerned about their own personal needs.

Among character traits of successful givers, Grant explains that grit is a key separator in performance: “Of course, natural talent also matters, but once you have a pool of candidates above the threshold of necessary potential, grit is a major factor that predicts how close they get to achieving their potential.”  So, grit is a good quality to have as a leader.

The value of grit is clearest in sports.  If we review the life of American track star Jesse Owens, we can gain a better understanding of how grit can make a leader effective.  In 1936, Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games, broke the long jump record, and dashed Hitler’s propaganda of superiority.[2]  Some people may conclude that Owens was a one-hit wonder since his successful was limited after the games.

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Born in 1913, the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves, Owens grew up in Alabama, where blacks were treated poorly.  At the age of seven, he was lifting 100 pounds of cotton a day to assist his family.  That work ethic was expected of him. [3]  As a child, Owens was also plagued with sickness and battled chronic bronchial congestion and pneumonia; however, despite these setbacks, he was a gifted athlete. When his family moved to Ohio, he worked hard to achieve his goals and was noted for his athletic talents in track and broke records throughout junior high and high school.

After graduating from high school, Owens enrolled at The Ohio State University. However, he was denied a scholarship and had to work to put himself through school. As a black athlete, he also continually endured discrimination, including not being allowed to eat with his fellow athletes.  He also overcame a severe tailbone injury. [4]  In spite of this, Owens’ collegiate career included winning four events at the NCAA Championships, two events at the AAU Championships, and three others at the Olympic trials.[5] Overall, Owens competed in 42 events that year and won them all.

At the 1936 Olympic Games, Adolph Hitler and the Nazis wanted to showcase the Aryan supremacy. [6] In fact, Hitler mocked America for including black athletes on its Olympic roster. Owens dominated the competition, capturing four gold medals (the 100 meter, the long jump, the 200 meter and the 400-meter relay), and breaking two Olympic records along the way. Owens leadership and grit helped the United States win 11 gold medals, six by black athletes. [7] The same type of grit can work today to make leaders more effective.

In nurturing great leaders, the character trait of grit needs to be encouraged in those who have grit and developed in those who don’t.  Today, most organizations do not want to spend the money or the time to develop good leaders; as a result, only those who naturally understand the importance of grit and know how to put this trait to use can bring tremendous benefits to their organization.

Yet, strength of character is essential to leadership. Dr. Richard Daft, renowned leadership guru and author of Leadership, identifies the importance of character for leaders: “Personal values affect how leaders perceive opportunities, situations, and problems, as well as the decisions they make in response to them.”  Author Laurie Graham explains, “Childhood doesn’t have to be perfect, and children don’t have to be beautiful.  From a bit of grit may grow a pearl, and if pearl production doesn’t materialize, the outcome will still be preferable to the shallowness of vanity.”  To top that off, megachurch pastor John Ortberg agrees: “Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.”

Can you afford to lead your organization into the future without true grit?  Businesses are faltering, surrounded by ongoing global threats.  Many organizations become conservative and fearful when faced with uncertainty and high risk.  In this blog article, I’ve demonstrated how the characteristic of grit can help leaders overcome the challenges of this chaotic business climate.  Like Owens, leaders should have the internal drive to propel them beyond today’s troubles, and grit, not only within leaders, but also within the culture of an organization, can drive sustainable performance.  Pray that it’s not too late for grit!

Please share your professional and personal experience with the nature of grit in leadership.

© 2016 by Daryl D. Green

 

[1] “Measuring the immeasurable: GRIT in education” by AJ Julian

 

[2] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

[3] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

[4] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

[5] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

[6] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

[7] “Jesse Owens” by Biographer.com

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27 thoughts on “Grit in Effective Leadership

    • Hello Elizabeth,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! As a federal professional and a past co-worker, you have extensive experience guiding and leading others. Many times the guidance is unclear due to the many unknowns. Professionals like yourself need to have grit. You do!
      Take care,
      Dr. D. Green

  1. Pingback: Do Our Presidential Candidates Have Enough Grit? - Press Release Rocket

  2. Dr. Green,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and findings about the importance of grit. I could not agree more that the importance of a leader’s determination cannot be emphasized enough. At the end of the day, results matter. Your followers want to see how you have carriy out the task at hand. Do you deliver on your promises? Do you go back on your word? A leader’s ability to deliver is priceless. It is also impossible without grit.
    John McKinley writes about this in his article in the Harvard Business Review stating, “Resilience matters most” (2013). McKinley explains that resilience is the combination of grit, courage, and commitment. He furthers the ideas brought forth in your post by sharing stories of entrepreneurs who are determined to change the world. In the world of accounting I live in, I see grit in not only managers and exectuvies but also those just out of undergrad trying to prepare for the CPA exam. Without grit, a fresh accountant could never make it through this step. With grit, though, an accountant can encourage others to follow in their path.

    References:

    McKinley, John. (2013). Want to Change the World? Be resilient. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/02/want-to-change-the-world-be-resilient

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    • Hi Christopher,

      Thanks so much for your insight and grasp of the grit concepts! Great example of the accountant students on the CPA exam! Let me give a shout out’ to OBU’s business department in the students preparation of the CPA exam. Dean Houghton noted that OBU students’ scores were the best in Oklahoma.

      Thus, everyone can use grit in overcoming hurdles in life!

      Dr. Green

    • Christopher, you have hit the nail on the head. Your two statements “At the end of the day, results matter” and “A leader’s ability to deliver is priceless”, summarize my opinion on the article. I am not a native speaker but I understand grit as the perseverance or determination of an individual.
      This is a special trait in my eyes. This relates to a quality of “beyond, getting the work done”. This is a trait that leaders should certainly possess to lead their followers. Speaking of personal experiences, I have to admit that I still struggle to exercise and manifest grit in many scenarios at my work place. But, I am learning and I am confident that I can master this quality with my everyday experiences at work. My leadership track curriculum, of course is certainly reinforcing my efforts in my journey. Grit requires courage and they go hand in hand. According to Perlis (2013), “Courage helps fuel grit; the two are symbiotic, feeding into and off of each other…and you need to manage each and how they are functioning together” (para. 7).

      [WC- 183]

      Works Cited
      Perlis, M. M. (2013, October 29). 5 Characteristics Of Grit — How Many Do You Have? Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/margaretperlis/2013/10/29/5-characteristics-of-grit-what-it-is-why-you-need-it-and-do-you-have-it/#57ca623d1f76

    • Hi Christopher,
      In lieu of your accounting example, I wanted to share my own personal story about enduring a tough phase of unemployment back in the peak of the 2009 recession. I struggled for a long time with a degree in Engineering to find a job and the only thing that kept me going through that phase was the resilience and will power to find a job. It took me longer than I could have ever imagined to finally get a job and if I had lost the power of positive thinking and faith that results will come with perseverance, I would not be in the situation I am in today. I use my own example because it was an experience very valuable to me in my life.
      Meghan Biro (2013) in an article in Forbes discusses ways to be a more resilient leader and one of them include positive thinking. Positive thinking goes hand in hand with grit and resilience. Without the ability to stay positive in the face of adversity, delivering results will only get harder and harder.

      References:
      Meghan M. Biro (2013), 4 Ways to be a More Resilient Leader, http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2014/05/04/4-ways-to-be-a-more-resilient-leader/#9c53f30c7edd

      WC – 180

      • Hi Kapil,

        Thanks for this personal example of grit in your life! Unemployment can cause folks to lose faith. You did not! Like you, I have an engineering degree. Engineers figure there is always a demand for engineers. But—I know engineers who have been laid off. You need grit. You need faith. A faith in someone who is more greater than yourself. God has the power to help us overcome any obstacles. Grit is a virtue!
        Professor Green

    • Hi Christopher

      I think you are right, in general leaders’ determination is one of the most important qualities. Publishers Weekly mentions that “grit is a “combination of passion and perseverance coupled to raw talent. Because in most cases someone has the talent but not the grit or vice versa, someone may have the grits but not the talent. I believe it is when the both are combined and exploited that success comes at the maximum potential or very closed. In swimming, we see this all the time. There are swimmers that kill themselves at practice and their dedication is incredible, yet they lack mind or talent in the water to become successful. Also, there are the swimmers that have an incredible potential but they lack the grits or the mind. In both cases, the rate of success might not be the greatest. I would say most of the times the best swimmers are the ones that have talent, grit and heart the people who go the extra mile to achieve what the believe are the ones that achieve the best results.

      Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Publishers Weekly [serial online]. 2016:67. Available from: Literature Resource Center, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 12, 2016.

      WC- 204

  3. I think we have very much become a “doom ‘n gloom” culture and the election for President is a great example of that. You see two people that no one really seems to care for running on a theme of “the other candidate is much scarier.”
    Grit nowadays means positivity. Heck, Guts, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity all refer to being positive and being unwavering in your belief. My hero, Winston Churchill, helped Britain survive the Blitz precisely because he was one of a very small number who thought they could. That is grit personified. The best leader I ever had was unyielding in his belief that tomorrow would be the best day ever and everyone can achieve greatness.
    At the USABE Conference (2014), the proceedings looked at the role of positivity in leadership. They found that positive leaders found opportunities for growth when other leaders were only worried about threats. They also found that positive leadership is manifest in values like optimism, trust, hope and fairness, which naturally builds positive relationships with colleagues. They showed that positive organizations had better economic outcomes. Finally, the USABE research showed that positivity in an organization came from positive leaders – agents of change.

    [WC-198]
    References
    Positively Entrepreneurial? The Relation between Positivity, Corporate Entrepreneurship and Performance. (2008). In USABE Conference (pp. 1-28). Whitewater, WI: USABE. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://ezproxy.okbu.edu:2092/eds/detail/detail?sid=f35844ee-7b58-4379-b632-ae40e0b14a0b@sessionmgr4008&vid=3&hid=4205&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=#db=b9h&AN=101824349

    • Hello Thomas,
      Thanks for your insight! Yes, the presidential election has many folks frustrated. Someone is going to win. We pray for our country. We pray for our leaders. I would say the winner will need…GRIT to bring the country back together.
      Professor Green

  4. Dr.Green,
    The article is very impressive and I have particularly enjoyed the way you have connected it with the examples. I have enjoyed every example and like I have mentioned in a comment, I am not a native speaker, but yet was able to completely comprehend the essence of grit and how it is necessary to develop and exercise, perhaps one of the most important qualities of a leader; grit.
    Grit has several definitions like courage, bravery, endurance and tenacity. But the most impressive definition that I have heard about grit is from Angela Duckworth. According to Duckworth (2013), “grit is the perseverance and passion for long term goals”. I cannot agree more with her statement. And as rightly pointed in your article, one of the most and perhaps the second important quality (first being honesty) for a leader would be grit. A leader should have grit in order to be motivated and keep people around him motivated. I strongly believe that continuous pursuit is what sets successful leaders apart from the rest. This pursuit is grit and it distinguishes transient success from the enduring one. All successful leaders I have met have always manifested two qualities; honesty and grit.

    [WC-200]

    Works Cited
    Duckworth, A. L. (2013, April). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance?language=en#t-353002

    • Hi Charan,

      Thanks for your contribution! Let me say you encourage me. Many folks where English is not the first language may be discouraged with breaking the language barriers in the US or someone else. It takes grit to overcome hurdles in life. Don’t give up.

      Professor Green

  5. Dr. Green,
    You have addressed a very powerful human characteristic in this blog and I appreciate the significance of this topic. There is no doubt that grit is what makes the world go around. The Jesse Owens reference embodies the value of true commitment and dedication to hard work and accomplishing something in a world with all odds stacked against you. Without the will power and urge to succeed in adversity, no amount of talent or education will help sustain an individual’s worth. I would also like to include a contemporary reference of one of my favorite athletes, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A division 2 college player that every scout wrote off for all the wrong reasons never got recognized for the right reason and that is heart and will to perform and succeed.
    Joanne Reid in an Ivey Business Journal article wrote “An organization that has not championed and embedded resiliency and emotional intelligence in its culture and its leaders will never appreciate the positive link between EQ and the employee engagement, client satisfaction and the bottom line.” Grit and resilience is what builds character and gets results. Without it, no amount of talent will ever be harnessed to its true potential.

    References:
    Joanne Reid (2008), The Resilient Leader: Why EQ Matters, http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/the-resilient-leader-why-eq-matters/

    (WC-203)

  6. Dr. Green
    I think there is not a better time that to read this article right now. I think I have the best example of grit, and I might be able to say I was blessed to watch: Michael Phelps. I think he is one of the greatest athletes in history so far,yet he is not only good in the water he shares his passion with the world. I would say he is a good example because regarding the problems he faced when he was a little kid, and the way he lost his track for a moment. He was able to have an incredible comeback and I do not believe it was because of his talent alone. I think he used his ” Guts, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity” to make the best out of him. Regardless all his success it was at the lows in this Olympics that I was able to see an inspiration. Someone that does not focus on how strong or fast he is, but someone that was enjoying and showing a great sportsmanship conduct overall! thank you for sharing this, I would say he is a great example of grit and I truly hope we have not seen all of him yet, I really hope we can see more. As of in my personal life, I would say as a swimmer I learn to explore and use some of my grit.
    Thank you!

  7. Dr. Green,
    This is a very impressive article about grit that I never thought it would be that important not only for leader perspective, but also for everyone to lead themselves in the daily. Heffner (2016) refers Duckworth’s definition of grit is “sustained perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (para. 10). For my personal life, I am pursuing on MBA degree which I need to set my goals and achieve it in the near future. However, this is not easy for me to complete the goal without putting an extraordinary effort on it because all study materials such as text book is not my first language. Awareness of grit will walk me through a circumstances that will occur in the future as Duckworth states “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over year despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approached achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina” (Duckworth, 2007, para. 1)
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    Reference:
    Gerstein, J. Grit: The Other 21st Century Skills. Retrieved August 13, 2016 from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/grit-the-other-21st-century-skills/

    • Hello Nalinee,

      Thanks so much for your response! You should feel encouraged. Part of grit is being willing to move out of your comfort zone in order to reach your personal goals. This isn’t easy. That is why so many folks don’t have ‘grit!’ Being an individual who can speak multiple languages and understand a variety of cultures are assets in a global environment.

      Stay encouraged! Keep posting…with GRIT!

      Professor Green

    • Nalinee,

      I liked how you incorporated the use of pursuing an M.B.A. for the purpose of identifying what grit is. With the amount of writing I have experienced pursing my M.B.A., it is evident that grit is needed. As I am sure students will often hit a wall or writers block, it only emphasized the need for the students to posses grit. The ability to pick oneself up and power through the obstacle at hand. Schwitzer (2016) points out these obstacles originate from the nature of the courses. She states, “many graduate business programs have rigorous MBA classes. The amount of work that you are asked to do can sometimes seem unreasonable (Schwitzer, 2016, para 6). The work is good, but can be taxing. Looking forward to the reward of bettering oneself and earning the degree is enough motivation.

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      Works cited:

      Schwitzer, K. (2016, August 12). What to Expect from MBA Classes. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://businessmajors.about.com/od/essentialclasses/a/MBA_Classes.htm

    • Hi Nalinee,

      you stated, Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over year despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. You should learn something from every failure. Failure should take you to success. Sometimes it is immediate and sometimes it takes time to get there where you want to be. If the failure is repeating indefinitely, then you should change the approach towards that goal. Heffner (2016) says, Grit can be reinforced though provide emotionally and intellectual support for grit-related behaviors. It can be hard emotionally, but it should not stop you from your goal. (Duckworth, 2007)

      Sources:
      Gerstein, J. Grit: The Other 21st Century Skills. Retrieved August 13, 2016 from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/grit-the-other-21st-century-skills/
      [WC-117]

  8. Dr. Green,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Grit is often overlooked, but still demands recognition. Hard work, drive, and passion are substitutes for the word “grit”. Grit is the willingness of a leader to push through boundaries. These boundaries are inevitable in the work setting, as well as difficult. To be an effective leader, an individual must posses and demonstrate their grit. Without grit a leader should be considered as more as a manager. A person who is good at carrying out tasks and that is the end of it. Grit is characteristic that defines the difference between a leader and a manager. A leader will be in the trenches with their employees getting their hands dirty. This is how grit is shown and respected by the followers of the leader. Franklin Roosevelt was a leader who posed grit. After contracting polio and being confided to a wheelchair, he still had the duty to lead America in one of its darkest hours. Although some viewed his condition as a weakness in the presidency, Roosevelt’s grit proved otherwise. Through his dedication, drive, and resolve he lead America to victory in World War II.

    Works Cited:
    Jacques, R. (2013, September 25). 16 Wildly Successful People Who Overcame Huge Obstacles To Get There. Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/25/successful-people-obstacles_n_3964459.html

  9. We look at people around us and judge ourselves based on their accomplishments, creating caveats, and asking ourselves why we cant or wont succeed. We live in a competitive environment and even more competitive workplaces, in these cases those few with “Grit” will have what it takes to stick out from the crowd; to be able to look at yourself objectively and adequately market your strengths to employers. Not pointing your finger at others and saying you aren’t where you are in life because of them. My favorite example regarding Grit is that of Lionel Messi. “Recognizably smaller than most of the kids in his age group, Messi was eventually diagnosed by doctors as suffering from a hormone deficiency that restricted his growth”. The family began immediate treatment however expenses became an issue. The family realized that this bad situation can be used for the better and marketed Messi’s extraordinary Soccer talents. It wasn’t long before “Messi was offered the chance to train at soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masia, and have his medical bills covered by the team”. Now Lionel Messi is one of the greatest soccer players of all time.

    http://www.biography.com/people/lionel-messi-555732#early-years

    WC-196

  10. Dr. Green,

    You stated, in 1936, Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games, broke the long jump record, and dashed Hitler’s propaganda of superiority. That is a perfect example of grit. Jesse Owens showed his counter resistance to Hitler´s power. As a graduate assistant swimming coach I am trying to be an example of a good leader to make my team greater than they are. It is positively affecting the team and me as well. Nothing should stop me or the team from that trait.

    Sources:

    Green, D. D. (2016, September 11). Grit in Effective Leadership. Retrieved from Nu Leadership Revolution
    [WC-105]

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