Having grit is particularly important in challenging contexts.
by Milana Hogan
August 1, 2014
If you ask highly successful business leaders to describe what contributed most to their success, you’re likely to hear a variety of answers, such as finding the right mentor or sponsor, building the right team and being in the right place at the right time.
But what about the factors that do not depend on good luck? Of the factors employees have complete control over, two noncognitive traits — grit and a growth mindset — hold much promise for leadership development.
Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, described grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Among other things, the research on grit has shown that grittier individuals tend to work harder and longer than their peers and are more likely to engage in deliberate efforts to improve their performance. They are more likely to stay the course and not get distracted by immediate, short-term interests or needs, and having grit is particularly important in challenging contexts.
Mindset is quite similar to grit. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests people generally have one of two mindsets — fixed or growth. People with a fixed mindset believe their strengths are predetermined. They believe they have a certain amount of intelligence and talent, and these gifts are immutable.
People with a growth mindset see their abilities as flexible entities that can be developed through dedication and effort. They understand that no one has ever reached expert levels of performance without years of practice, hard work and setbacks. Individuals with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset, and are far less likely to get frustrated when things become challenging.
Dweck argues that mindset is a powerful tool that profoundly affects the way you lead your life and can determine whether you commit to, and accomplish, the things you want.
Grit and growth mindset, or the synonyms of these traits, such as persistence, perseverance, the ability to overcome obstacles, profound belief in the power of hard work and effort, and dedication and focus are often used to describe an organization’s strongest and most promising employees. Here are three ways learning practitioners can incorporate these traits:
Teach employees how to handle and learn from failure. Most successful people have failed repeatedly. Ask Oprah Winfrey, J.K Rowling, Phil Mickelson or any number of successful people, and they will tell you about times when they struggled and weren’t sure they had what it takes. Learning leaders need to teach their employees how to deal with the negative emotions that go hand-in-hand with the inevitable setbacks, losses and failures that are a part of the typical professional path. We can teach employees appropriate coping strategies such as distancing oneself from the loss, understanding the limits of what you can and cannot control, even deep breathing and journaling to get rid of negative emotions in the workplace.
Praise efforts, not outcomes. You don’t want to send the wrong message about the importance of grit or growth mindset by overlooking these traits in performance evaluation. Evaluations should focus on more than results. As Dweck suggests, praise effort in addition to ability. Insert a category that evaluates how persistent employees are, or the extent to which they persevere in spite of challenging obstacles. Results are important, but it is far better for an organization to encourage employees to exert effort and continue developing their skills because it will increase the likelihood of the individual employee’s success and create a larger pool of well-rounded future leaders.
Help employees identify their passions. Grit is as much about passion as it is about perseverance. We should encourage employees to identify what they love to do and then help them pursue it with zeal. Too often, employees don’t think about their passions because they are focused on their immediate to-do lists. If you don’t know what makes you happy, it’s hard to pursue it, and if you’re not passionate about what you’re pursuing, research shows you won’t be able to achieve the same levels of success.
While these recommendations may not fit with conventional wisdom, learning professionals can leverage the emerging science behind these two traits to develop and expand their pool of future leaders.