What does it mean to have grit? The dictionary defines grit as “courage or resolve; the strength of character; and mental toughness”. I once asked a senior leader what he looks for in people he hires to his team. The things he mentioned were the usual suspects save one – raw talent, smart, coachable, flexible and grit. Two things stood out to me about this list. First, there was no mention of knowing how to do everything, that’s where raw talent and coachable comes in. You can teach people what you want them to do but if the other aspects aren’t already present in the person, it doesn’t really matter. Second, this was the first time I ever heard a leader use the word grit when describing the ideal employee. I agree the most talented people in any organization have a certain amount of grit, but it’s usually described with fancier words such as perseverance, courage, brave, determination, etc. The reason I like the word grit and I like that he used the word grit is because it’s a simple word. It drives at the essence of what people need today in the workplace, in life, in business and so on. It’s visual and raw. You get the sense that others don’t mess with a person that has grit. If they do, they quickly find out the true meaning of the word.
A word of caution about grit though. If one of the aspects overpower the others it can come across as bullying, arrogant, mean, pessimistic, so on and so forth. There is a delicate balance and art to having grit. You have to know when to be hard versus soft; when to be steel versus silk; and when to be loud versus quiet. There is a certain wisdom to having grit.
To Thine Own Self Be True
A basic component of having grit is to know your weaknesses, strengths, and triggers. When you know and embrace these three things you can shift your energy and actions accordingly to manage almost any situation. For example, if you embrace people not following instructions is a big trigger for you ask someone else to manage certain processes for you. If you have to go it alone, set up a system that relies on your strengths to deal with those types of situations. You may decide to set up a call with everyone to walk people through a process at once. That way you’re not repeating it over and over which only serves to flip the trigger over and over.
Additionally, embracing your weaknesses, strengths and triggers will allow you to identify your boundaries and communicate them to others.
Solve The Problem
Finger pointing or “throwing others under the bus” is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. When I worked in trading we had very little time to make tough decisions. We’re talking a minute or two, if that. There was no time to focus on the outcomes of a problem or even people’s feelings. We simply had to solve the problem, identify the fix and implement the solution. Did tempers flare sometimes? Absolutely, we’re talking about billions of dollars a day in transactions. But tempers got way worse if the issue became repetitive. It meant the problem wasn’t solved, merely the symptoms were treated.
Problem solving is an important component of having grit because people with grit tend to power through situations. You rarely hear people with grit complaining that somebody else did something. They explain the issue, how the issue came about, the potential solutions, and then set about fixing it.
Find The Signal In The Noise
This goes hand-in-glove with solving the problem, the signal versus the noise. People with grit outright ignore noise but recognize that the static is surrounding something. They look for the something. Think of it this way. When you’re trying to tune into a radio station and you are one or two numbers off you can hear the program but it’s covered with a bunch of static. You have to turn the dial (or push the button) to fine tune the station to hear it crystal clear. That’s what people with grit do. They analyze the information they are receiving and have the ability to distinguish the static from the crystal clear signal and that’s what they act on. They don’t exhaust themselves trying to focus on the program through the noise or even deal with the noise. The noise is a smoke screen and drains everyone’s energy.
Find A Way And Fire That Engine
One of my favorite movie lines is from Armageddon. They are about to take off from the asteroid but the shuttle won’t start. Bruce Willis’ character is outside ready to sacrifice himself to save the world but the remaining crew tells Houston Control they can’t take off. Houston Control replies back “if there’s not a way, you find a way, now fire that engine!” Spoiler alert, they do get the engine started. But I love that line so much because it nicely sums up the heart of a person with grit – if you don’t immediately see a way, find or make a way. People with grit exhaust every possibility of which they can conceive. They ask others for ideas and exhaust those. Only after trying a thousand different things do they concede they haven’t found the answer…yet, rarely do they use the word “impossible”. Results are the primary goal – not titles or accolades. That will come regardless, those with grit, however, are interested in earning them.
People with grit aren’t all bark and all bite. They know when it’s time to bark, when it’s time to bite and when it’s time for a belly rub. Despite how true grit is depicted in the movie of the same name, it doesn’t mean a gritty person is one who is hard all of the time. They have times of softness and vulnerability, especially with those they are charged with leading. Having grit doesn’t mean lacking feelings or emotions or keeping them to yourself. That’s just silly and damaging. To tell people that they can’t express their emotions, passions, etc. in a work environment is saying you don’t want humans working for you. Of course, this should be done professionally and not in a destructive manner but being able to cut through the noise to fix problems requires open expression. Being smart is about knowing how to do, being wise is about knowing when to do. Sometimes silence speaks volumes and sometimes volume speaks volume.
Courage Under Fire
One of the hardest things in the world is for people to admit they’re wrong or made a mistake. Since I’m on a movie roll I’ll keep it going. The movie Courage Under Fire was about literal courage under fire and the lack thereof. Denzel Washington’s character is posthumously awarding Meg Ryan’s character’s the Medal of Honor for her bravery in action in Desert Storm (literal courage under fire). The investigation reveals she died from friendly fire and it was covered up resulting in the one responsible committing suicide after being questioned (lack of courage under fire). Someone with grit owns their mistakes, their wrongs, admits it and learns from it. When they receive feedback they consider it whether they agree with it or not. If they push back against the feedback it’s done so with facts and figures, not excuses or conjecture. They invite the other side to do so as well. These are people you cannot easily scare or intimidate, nor do they seek to scare and intimidate. They meet fact with fact and fiction with fact because they are interested in the signal not the noise. They say what needs to be said, in the manner in which it needs to be said, even when it’s not the popular thing to say.
Last, but not least, someone with grit can endure unpleasantness for a long time. They can endure the rough times and do so with an eye on the future state. They are working toward a better state or a greater good and know that sludge is par for the course. They are loyal and don’t abandon the ship the second the waters get rough. They adapt and make do. When someone abandons ship they don’t focus on it, they pick up the slack or assign it to someone else. They inspire others to do the same. They don’t leave a man or woman behind. They do all of this with a good attitude. That doesn’t mean they won’t get upset, frustrated or discouraged at times. It means that when they do they rely on their mental toughness and fortitude to regroup to get themselves and others back on track.
When you hear of people having grit and wonder if you have it too, think on this list of characteristics. Do you have them? If not, you can cultivate them. Start by looking for and partnering with the closet person with true grit you can find. You may find you have more grit than you think. Take a look at the very top of your organization, your C-suite. Do you think they have grit or are they more political? In a world that values quick fixes and instant gratification is it harder to have grit? And when does grit go too far? I would love to hear your thoughts on the art of grit.
About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.