Spanx founder Sara Blakely and her husband Jesse Itzler were asked, “What is the biggest characteristic that contributes to future success?”
Ponder for a moment … how do you answer this? Are you coming up with some of the standard answers I’ve heard: Intelligence? Strategic thinking? Vision or subject matter expertise? Or something that has led you to where you are?
Blakely and Itzler stated their #1 trait that people need for success is “grit.” American psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, created this term which refers to the passion and perseverance one has to go after long-term goals, even when up against significant obstacles or setbacks.
Blakely and Itzler explained that grit isn’t needed only in business, but in everyday life. Grit must be cultivated in our children from an early age. Far to often, parents try to smooth the way by solving the problem or providing a buffer…commendable but harmful in the long run. How do they do this, by saying yes (instead of saying no) or solving the problem instead of asking “If no one told you how to do X, how would you do it?”
Children need guidance in learning the inevitable lessons of failure and disappointment…and be able to see failure is a sign of courage not simply defeat. Additionally, early learning on how to cope with disappointment in a healthy way is better when we’re raising them and by their side than years from now when they’re grown and out on their own.
Blakely’s father asked her, the same pivotal question each and every day that Blakely and her husband ask their kids: “What did you fail at today?” The result: failure is a sign one is actively trying to stretch oneself and push past the status quo.
Researchers actually measure how grit contributes to achievement. According to Duckworth’s studies, grit is an indicator of which cadets will make it through training at West Point – better than test scores and athletic ability. Grit can help predict who will graduate from college, who will make it in stressful jobs, and who will reach the highest ranks of leadership.
Business owners understand grit, even if they haven’t heard the term before. After all, what is entrepreneurship but the strength to strive for a big goal and to stick with something difficult?
However, some organizations are grittier than others. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many businesses crumble under the pressure of the pandemic – an extraordinary hurdle indeed. And yet some businesses faced the last year and a half like they were just waiting for walls to run through.
Gritty organizations innovate and take risks. Their people will stick their necks out and say, “What if we tried this? Or this?” Gritty organizations believe that hard work can make things happen and challenges are an opportunity to learn.
As business owners, we can try to hire for grit – targeting people with a track record of overcoming challenges, exceeding goals, and leaving roles to move forward. Also, we can cultivate it in our existing team.
We can encourage calculated risk taking and embrace failure as an inevitable part of growth. We can create time and resources for continual learning, and we can reward people for trying new things over status quo productivity.
Preparing our business for the future means ensuring our organizations, and individuals therein, are gritty.