It's Good to Have Grit

The trait has been shown to predict success. Yet it can also be easily sabotaged, says executive coach Liz Bentley.

Published: Dec 6, 2019

Grit, or the ability to keep going even when things get tough or impossible, is a key attribute for workers today. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth’s research on grit—a personality trait she defines as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”—reveals that it’s the best predictor of success. With grit, you work toward challenges and maintain effort and interest over time, despite failure. It allows you to understand that life is a marathon and that staying in the race will make all the difference. More than IQ, talent, or self-control, grit is what makes for outstanding achievement.

In coaching, I see that in theory everyone wants to have grit, and most people think they have it. Many proudly share their grit badges of honor, reminiscing about the hardships they’ve had to overcome in their lives to succeed. And while having such experiences is valuable, it doesn’t mean you can still rely on them today. In a world that is changing as quickly as ours is, people need grit to keep on keeping on rather than just fall back on examples from their past. 

Grit gives us the ability to keep working hard even when the outcome is unclear.

There’s also a group of people who feel that their lives haven’t been hard enough to need grit. No major catastrophe has occurred, so in their eyes it hasn’t been needed. But the truth is, grit shows up everywhere. When people don’t manifest grit, it may be that they quit or didn’t push themselves to take the risks they needed to take in order to grow to the next level.

The Grit Killers

Often our grit gets sabotaged and my job as a coach is to figure out why. What derails our ability to be resilient even when we have a good track record? Here is what my research has found: Grit is all about mind-set. When we have hard times, there are a number of thoughts that typically run through our mind. We start by thinking “Why is this happening to me?” (this is not fair), “Why now?” (it’s a terrible time for this to be happening), and last but not least, “Why not them?” (their lives are always easier than mine). This thinking leads to what I call the grit killers, which are:

•       Feeling sorry for yourself. This is the death of grit. You can forgive yourself for your imperfections, but feeling sorry for yourself puts you in a mind-set of weakness and victimhood. It breeds the feeling that your life is out of your control and that there is nothing you can do.

•       Comparing yourself to others. As my mother has always said, “There’s no free lunch.” That means everyone has hardship of one kind or another, and while it might come in different forms and at different times, no one gets a pass.

•       Being closed-minded. Not being open to change, feedback, and different perspectives shuts down your ability to evolve and compromises your mind-set. If you become arrogant, you prioritize the need to be right over the need to succeed.

The Grit Producers

In contrast to the grit killers, there are certain skills that can help produce grit—especially now in these times of uncertainty. Grit gives us the ability to keep working hard even when the outcome is unclear. This means we persist even when we have no idea if what we are doing will work or produce any success. With it, we have the resilience to handle bad bosses and tough clients, navigate conflict, and push ourselves to see our flaws and grow beyond them. Grit makes us work on ourselves instead of complaining about others. And it pushes us to control our destiny and reminds us that we are steering our ship. Here are what I call the grit producers, which you can use to improve or reclaim your grit:

•       Confidence—the ability to believe in yourself even when you’re scared and fearful. Confidence gives you the ability to do hard things and see your truth.

•       Faith—the ability to believe in your destiny even when things look really bad. Faith pushes you to keep getting back up no matter how bleak the outlook may seem.[Office1]

•       Forgiveness—the ability to forgive yourself for your imperfections and flaws. This is key, because you’re going to get it wrong and make mistakes at times, but if you linger on it too long, you lose your resilience. You need to allow yourself to fail, forgive yourself, and then grow from it and move on.

•       Vulnerability—the ability to receive feedback and hear other perspectives. This helps you tap into your emotional intelligence to really understand what’s going on. From there you can see your fears and then address and overcome them.

Grit give us the ability to hang in the fight just long enough to see that glimmer of light come through on the darkest of days. Without it, it’s very hard to succeed in almost any profession.

The ultimate career guide, from Korn Ferry CEO and New York Times best-selling author, Gary Burnison
Complimentary with every Premium subscription
It Starts With You...
How to take control, uncover your blind spots and make more money.
...But It’s Not About You
Surviving bosses and coworkers, managing, and networking success.
To Earn More, Learn More
Don't be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all with practical advice and tools.
"Advance gives you a wealth of practical and actionable advice. You'll have what you need to take control of your career, starting today."