Why Grit Isn’t Everything

03/23/2017 07:54 pm ET
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Interview with Professor Angela Duckworth

Is grit the key ingredient for your success? Researchers define grit as the passion and perseverance to achieve your long-term goals. So it makes sense that over the last few years it has been championed as the silver bullet that enables our success. But is grit really all it takes to succeed?

Studies suggest that grit can be more important for your success than your IQ, EQ or even good looks. But without the strengths of curiosity, optimism, social intelligence and self-control grit can land you in jobs you aren’t suited for, stuck on ideas that will never work and in relationships you should have let go of. Let’s face it examples of stupid grit and goals gone wild can be found all around us.

So what should you cultivate in addition to grit?

“Grit isn’t everything,” explained Professor Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, founder and scientific director of the Character Lab, and best-selling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, when I interviewed her recently. “There are many other character strengths you also need to be truly successful and to flourish in life.”

Angela’s research has found that character is plural. And grit is just one aspect of character, along with other strengths such as hope, optimism, social intelligence, curiosity and gratitude. She suggests your strengths can be classified into three dimensions of character – intrapersonal (strengths of will), interpersonal (strengths of heart) and intellectual (strengths of mind).

Angela suggests to be truly successful in the workplace you need to develop character strengths in each of these three dimensions. For example, you need strengths of will (grit and growth mindset) to do things and accomplish your goals. Your strengths of heart (gratitude, emotional and social intelligence) can help you be a generous and effective collaborator. And your strengths of mind (curiosity and zest) can help you to be more creative and innovative.

“Grit is far from the only or even the most important aspect of a person’s character” says Angela. “You need both greatness and goodness to be part of who you are.”

While Angela acknowledges that you need more than just grit for success, since her 2013 Ted Talk on the topic went viral and her book became an instant best-seller, grit has quickly quickly became the new buzzword in workplaces around the world.

“Of course as a scientist I want my work to have an impact, but sometimes people’s enthusiasm for applying an idea can get ahead of our scientific confidence about what’s true and what is not,” cautions Angela.

For example, she fears companies who have used her grit scale – developed for research purposes when there is nothing at stake – to assess someone’s likelihood of being hired or promoted have gone too far.

So how can grit be used effectively in workplaces?

As well as acknowledging that grit is only one of a number of character strengths, Angela has three suggestions based on what she’s seen is and isn’t working in organizations:

  • Be a grit role-model - one of the best ways to help create a gritty workplace is by exemplifying grit in yourself. Set yourself a goal to get better at something that interests you or benefits others. Make sure it will stretch you out of your comfort zone, and then commit to doing some type of deliberate practice–researching a topic, mastering a new skill, building connections –as many times as it takes to move you towards accomplishing this goal. Having a growth mindset where you see failure as just part of the learning and growth process, can help you pick yourself back up when you come across setbacks, plateaus in your progress or fail outright.
  • Lead wisely - help others cultivate grit by appreciating that people need support, limits and latitude to reach their full potential. Give people opportunities to pursue their passions by providing them with challenges, providing genuine feedback and encouraging them to keep stretching towards what they're really capable of achieving. Angela suggests it’s not always easy to do both of these things at once, but think of it as the ‘tough love’ needed to help others to flourish.
  • Maintain balance – when you’re cultivating grit in yourself or others it’s important that this doesn’t translate into a culture where effort for effort’s sake is valued or made a badge of honor. While you want to always be trying to do a little better today than you did yesterday, this shouldn’t mean that you have to work longer and longer hours, skip your workout at the gym and never have time for fun. Nor should it mean if you walk out of the office at knock off time, you’ll be regarded as a slacker. It’s about finding ways to challenge yourself and grow in ways that support your wellbeing.

How can you cultivate more grit and other strengths of character to be truly successful at work?

This interview was produced with the support of the International Positive Psychology Association’s 5th World Congress on Positive Psychology.

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