As much as the Porsche needs fuel, our careers need ‘Grit’
One year ago I attended the European Conference for Female Leaders as an HR Executive in a big global organization. My expectations and motivation were low. I thought of it as yet another mingling opportunity among a group of business women. Looking back, I know how wrong I was. During a discussion on diversity, colleagues commented on my visible passion for the subject and attested me grit. Born and raised in Croatia and a non-native in English, I did neither understand nor make sense of the term. A couple of google clicks later, I was intrigued by the subject. Today, I am the proud owner of Grit International, a business with the mission to provide fast, efficient and pragmatic solutions for complex talent and engagement challenges. But this is not a story about me. It is my story about grit.
THE POWER OF GRIT
We all know those high performing individuals who relentlessly strive to achieve their goals: hard-working women and men with drive and the urge to put their dreams into reality. For many years I have worked with them, learned from them, observed them and wondered about the single, common denominator of their success.
Those wonders and a deep interest behind the formula for success at both individual and organizational level, recently brought me to the work of Angela Duckworth - an established American psychologist associated with the studies of the non-cognitive trait known as grit. The formal definition of grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort towards very long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). In other words, it stands for the passion and perseverance to stick with our far away future.
The most stunning element of the concept for me was that studies showed that talent doesn’t make us gritty at all. In fact, the stronger our cognitive abilities are, the smaller could be the chance that we will work really hard over a long time to achieve our distant aspirations. This outcome reminded me of many talent review discussions I moderated in executive teams with the goal to find colleagues with a potential to become the new leaders. Spotting them was often easy, but keeping them passionate over the years leading up to their big roles was a stretch.
WHERE TO FIND THE FUEL FOR THE CAREER RIDE?
Translated into an organizational context, I like the metaphor of the brand new Porsche that can be compared to highly talented new employees. You may have attracted the brightest people into the jobs. People that have the skills, the ability to learn fast and easily and in short – the visible disposition to take their careers anywhere. However, if the fuel or in our words grit is lacking, their talent alone won’t get them moving.
Engine power can be supplied from many sources. Water, wind, fossils or solar power are the broadly acknowledged ones generated in the nature. The less discussed source generated in a human heart is called passion but it deserves a high attention from every leader, career architect, engagement officer and ambitious individual.
I believe it’s crucial to discover our passion early in life and to invest into what we are good at. Most probably at young age the meaning of passion and how to find it is unclear. But that is fine. As long as energy, focus and hard work is invested into building it.
“Running out of gas” was the statement I often heard from colleagues during mergers and acquisitions. Those are often the moments when our passion and commitment can be affected by mixed emotions, insecurities, a lack of vision or simply the resistance to change. In those moments individual consumption of energy is extremely high, reserves are used up quickly and engines can become overheated. Strong leadership that starts fueling the energy again becomes vital for the perseverance of any individual. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with some incredible leaders throughout my career. One of the common qualities they all had was a profound ability to refuel my tanks in times of need. Those leaders were easily spotting my low energy that was reflected in my engagement. They were sincere in their interest to help me grow that energy again and they were capable of steering my passion towards their inspiring visions.
ENCODING THE GRIT FORMULA
Studies have proven that grit emerged as a significant predictor for success in various environments and various roles. At the same time it is striking how little science knows about the options we have to develop grit. So it is only fair to admit that the concept is under-researched and therefor underutilized. The good news is: more testing, measuring and studying is under way. At Grit International we not only form a team of gritty individuals, passionate about the engagement and strategic talent solutions in the business environment, but we are truly committed to contribute to the scientific research that could unleash grit’s potential for global value creation.
In the digital world we live in – only data driven decisions, courage for diversity and perseverance will make us thrive. I am a believer in grit and I highly respect the science. That is why I am confident that with the launch of a formula for grit’s development, we will boost at all levels.