Odds are that you know someone who’s not a good leader. Maybe you worked for them, or alongside them, or you saw enough from them early on to know you didn’t want to do either. Regardless, we are all aware of someone whom we don’t think fits the bill. I am of the belief though, that if given enough time, leadership can be learned.
So what can a leader do today to see immediate results?
In her Ted Talk which has more than 7 million views, Angela Lee Duckworth shares research that identifies a keystone characteristic that indicates long term success. It’s Grit. Before you roll your eyes, do you know what it is? The dictionary defines it as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit”. Angela explains that even more than talent or IQ, her research showed that grit was the best indicator of success. She defines grit as “perseverance and passion toward a long term goal.”
So how do we grow Grit?
Since grit is a primary indicator of success, we need to know how to grow it. Angela says the best way she knows to develop grit comes from Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford University and is found in her book “Mindset”. Carol teaches about a “growth” mindset and a “fixed” mindset. The first, growth, is when individuals believe they can learn new abilities and develop new skills through their effort. The second, the fixed mindset, is when we think we are born with what we have and there is no changing it regardless of our effort. In fact, Dweck claims that in the fixed mindset we scoff at effort because it undermines our talent. So we develop grit when we believe we can learn something and we work to do it.
Grit in Leadership
When grit is applied to leading people, it becomes a responsibility to use that passion and perseverance to build the same in those you lead. Basically, it’s your job to create an environment where others adopt the growth mindset that will help develop grit themselves. In my opinion it’s a duty.
This is where it gets tricky… to develop leadership grit in others, you have to seek growth for yourself. You start with you and do something hard and new. You prove to yourself you can do it. Then when you have seen yourself accomplish it, you are impressed with yourself. If you have some humility, then you also think “if I can do it, so can someone else”. This is where it gets fun. As a leader you go over to Jim and say, “Hey Jim, I want to help you do this thing that’s hard that you’ve never done” and because Jim doesn’t have grit and the last new thing he tried was a new show on Netflix, he say’s “no thanks, I’m all set.” But inside he’s thinking, “Wow, I could never do that.” But this is where you are able to help Jim believe in himself because you understand that his desire to avoid something hard will show up the next time there is a significant change at work, or a hard task that needs completing.
After All, you’ve been fortunate enough to see yourself do something you didn’t think you could do so now it’s extra hard to allow someone to think they “can’t” do something they don’t think they can do. So you find a way to help Jim try this new thing and be successful at it. Now that Jim has seen himself do something hard that he didn’t think he could do, the next time he faces a new challenge he will have that much more confidence in his ability to successfully do something he didn’t think he could do. This is a cycle that only gets stronger and stronger as you and Jim continue to seek out new hard things to do, feel the challenge of learning and pains of growth, and ultimately realize accomplishment. It’s that consistency of accomplishment that develops grit.
How do you Derail the development of Grit?
Easy. You quit. Or you never try new, hard things. When you quit, you become safe in your comfort zone. You say “this is too hard and I’m comfortable not doing that hard thing”. This might be fine for you, but in the back of your mind you start to doubt if you could. The brain doesn’t know the difference between failing and refusing to try. Both are the same in the eyes of the brain.
This is a reason why we have so many poor leaders out there. This is why when I start talking to someone about their career inevitably they have a story about a bad leader. This is why so many leaders put their team’s poor performance on the team instead of squarely on their own shoulders. Many leaders don’t believe in themselves to the point of attempting something new, challenging, difficult etc. Instead they play it safe. Which means they don’t facilitate new accomplishment that would develop the confidence of their people. When confidence lacks then people shy away from opportunities to grow (AKA trying new things/challenging the status quo) and therefore don’t develop grit.
What’s the fix?
Leaders have to wake up and try something new. At first it can be anything, just something that’s hard and new that you’ve never done. Get a mentor and put some time and effort into crafting a new skill. For me it was running, hiking and triathlon. As you begin to try new things, you’ll start to have confidence in your own ability to learn and that will breed belief in your people’s ability to learn. And that will motivate you to facilitate their accomplishment.
You will be amazed at what happens next… You’ll inspire them! They’ll believe they can do anything and they’ll be right.
Greer Method Complete Coaching provides one on one coaching for executives and business owners. Through expert coaches, habit locking technology, and proven processes we help leaders create, manage, and sustain personal and professional performance.
Jared J. Greer is the founder of Greer Method Complete Coaching. He is an executive coach, 6-time Ironman finisher, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, husband, and father of four.