By Stefanie Stern
An Interview with TNP Founding Partner, Scott Philips
Grit – a newer installation to the business world vernacular, is not likely something you’d find on a list of job requirements, but is one of those traits that will ultimately make or break the longevity of an organization. At TNP, one of our passions is helping teams build and exercise these from-the-gut characteristics as they pursue organizational excellence.
One thing that I so admire about you is that you’re constantly reading and exploring new schools of thought as a management consultant. I know your recent read has been on this topic of “grit”. What’s it about?
It’s a book by Paul G. Stoltz – “Grit – The new science of what it takes to persevere, flourish, and succeed.” On occasion there’s a book or article or something that really speaks to me. This book struck a chord because, in retrospect, grit is one of the core characteristics that our most successful client companies have in common. People come to companies or situations with underlying philosophies on what it takes to be a strong leader or run a successful company, but it’s their ability to exercise grit when the rubber meets the road that will ultimately make or break them.
How do you define grit?
Well, the book defines grit as “your capacity to dig deep, to do whatever it takes – especially struggle, sacrifice, even suffer; to achieve your most worthy goals”. To me, grit is actually facing the tigers and doing the stuff no one else is able to do – making a hard decision to stop selling something, eliminating positions, stopping investment in areas that aren’t yielding results or making the decision to move forward on something with a measure of risk. Sometimes grit is even just hanging in there. You may be doing monotonous, uninteresting work, but grit is sometimes standing in that place to make something happen.
We’re often brought into organizations with a lot of issues, and the lack of grit is often a major culprit in lack of success or cohesion.
I think there’s a crossroads where you can either choose to do the “gritty” thing (often the “right” thing) or you can choose to stay in the safety zone and keep the waters calm. How do you get motivated to do the right thing?
I guess the way I would describe it is that there has to be significant motivation to activate grit – the outcome has to be more valuable than the sacrifice it requires. Sometimes that comes down to recognizing the value of a goal that you’ve set, knowing that it’s the only pathway to where you want to end up. And if you’re just told to do something, you won’t have the same kind of motivation. You have to have enough ownership over your goal that you will authentically fight for it, defend it, and take risks on its behalf.
Here’s another way to look at it. Think about when a man is pursuing a woman – he goes out of his way to see her and spend time with her, prove his affection for her, and convince her that he is the best choice for her. Grit shows up in the funniest places in many different areas of our lives, but it’s always exercised when the goal means a lot to us, when we’re committed to it. You’ll do almost anything if you’re really committed.
What about people that don’t come by grit naturally? Can it be learned?
First of all, I would bet that most people exercise grit in some arena of life and have something that they would fight to the death for. That’s a good starting point, identifying the things that “light a fire” and how those things inform your actions. But in the workplace, yes – I think that grit can be learned and built up. Some people are more tenacious by nature, but like anything, practice makes perfect. And being mentally aware of the need for grit gives you a bit of grit anyway.
I think if you have zero grit or depth of commitment for the work you’re doing, that’s a sign that you may be doing the wrong thing or that you may have set the wrong goal(s).
How have you seen it exercised?
It’s a rare commodity. I worked with a company a couple years ago who had struggled with a lot of big stuff – lack of money and resources, technology that wasn’t working, ineffective employees and people in the wrong positions. Most other leaders would not have been able to keep the company afloat, but the individual I was working with, through her own personal grit, level of ownership, and confidence in her ability to overcome and be successful, built her company back up to a highly successful state. It was sheer determination in action. It was amazing to watch.
As someone who has witnessed both companies that have grit and also the lack of it, what are some signs that your team is appropriately tenacious and exercising the right kind of grit?
Grit is rarely a group characteristic, unless it is present because a team is made up of a number of gritty individuals. Often, grit travels alone, so a company with signs of grit typically have lots of individual successes that when coordinated create amazing outcomes. We find that those with exceptional grit welcome the challenges, don’t flinch and carry a lot of individual strength.
For those looking to measure their grit and/or improving grit in their company, contact us at TruNorth Partners and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.