Grit is the key. Here’s how to get it


Successful leaders are passionate and focus resolutely on growth. Psychologists call it grit, writes Dave Ulrich

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We learn to win. Learning underlies organizational agility, predicts leadership success, and improves individual productivity.

How do we improve our capacity to learn? Learning has two dimensions: personal energy and passion and an ability to demonstrate a growth mindset. Psychologists call this virtuous combination “grit”, concluding that grit is a better predictor of long-term personal, educational, and leadership success than intellect (IQ), emotion (EQ), or sociability (SQ). When presenting to large groups, I like to ask: “Raise your hand if you are glad that IQ is not the biggest predictor of your personal or professional success. If you did not understand the question, raise your hand!”

Here’s my list of how to enhance grit (from research, experience, and observations.)

1. Set realistic expectations. Sometimes, we try to achieve the unachievable. Grit needs to be directed with realistic expectations.

2. Take a risk. Challenge yourself to do new things. Habits and routines are 70% to 80% of our lives, but experimenting with new routines allows us to grow. See change as opportunity not threat.

3. Persist in the face of setbacks. When trying something new, it often won’t work and it is very easy to blame and rationalize. Face mistakes, run into them and honestly evaluate what worked and what did not work.

4. Relish success, share credit and focus on why. Take the Velcro and Teflon test: great leaders take more than their fair share of blame and less than their fair share of credit. Grit may come from being “Velcro” in failure, taking responsibility, not blaming others, then being “Teflon” in success, sharing credit.

5. See effort as the path to mastery. Without graft, success is a fluke. For long-term learning and growth, we must have sustained effort and a passion for the outcome we want to achieve.

6. Learn from criticism. Criticism is a gift of improvement. We learn by asking others what they think and how things might have worked. You can hear criticism and choose whether or not to act upon it.

7. Build on your strengths. Focus on what is right and build on it. Sometimes a mistake becomes an unhealthy obsession.

8. Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. Finding joy in others’ success allows us to learn; we can observe how they work and adapt this to our circumstance.

9. Surround yourself with friends who are learning and growing. Our friends become a mirror of who we are. Look at your closest friends to determine how you are likely to be seen. If we chose friends who learn and grow, we are likely to mimic their behaviour. We learn through imitation and those we are closest to are those we imitate.

10. Start small. I like the learning mantra:
• Think big: have big ideas, work on principles, have grand aspirations
• Test small: start with little things, fold the future into the present, experiment, try, start, chunk big tasks into small behaviours
• Fail fast: recognize what is not working, be open to criticism
• Learn always: reflect, renew, and improve.


– Dave Ulrich is Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and Partner at The RBL Group

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