By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN
I recently spoke with a young nurse leader who was ready to give up a leadership role after 8 months. She asked me what I thought about her decision. I told her that it brought back memories of my first management role. I was ready to give up during the first year because it seemed like I was not making the progress that I had hoped to. But then, I thought about my Mom and one of her favorite sayings which was that “sometimes in life you need to soldier on”. She learned this phrase growing up in Ireland during World War II where every night German planes flew across Ireland on their way to bomb England. She recalled that it was terrifying. It was only the confidence of Winston Churchill and his urgings of everyone to “soldier on” that led them to believe that things would be OK in the end. And so, I did soldier on in my role and eventually everything fell into place and I felt better about my leadership. My supervisor told me that she admired my grit in sticking with it and how this trait would serve me well in the future. After years of leadership experience, I would have to agree that grit matters in leadership.
What is Grit?
Grit has been defined as having the passion and perseverance to achieve your goals in spite of any obstacles that might be place in your way. It is the perseverance of effort that promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Dr. Angela Duckworth is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies grit and notes that it is an important determinant of success in almost any venture. She developed a 12-item Grit Scale.4 to assess your own grit. Interesting for the army, it has been a better predictor of which cadets will make it through the West Point boot camp than any other instruments tested. Duckworth’s research suggests that when it comes to high achievement, grit may be as essential as intelligence. That’s a significant finding because for a long time, intelligence has always been considered the key to success.
Why Grit Matters in Leadership
There are five key characteristics of grit that are also needed for leadership success. These include the following:
1. Courage – the ability to manage failure in a positive, proactive way.
2. Conscientiousness – having an achievement orientation even if success happens in small steps.
3. Long-term Goals – the ability to focus on longer-term goals and the endurance to follow through on what is needed to meet these goals.
4. Resilience – the ability to bounce back after setbacks in a positive manner.
5. Excellence – the willingness to pursue excellence but not demand perfection.
Can Grit be Developed?
All of us can develop more grit in life. Key steps include choosing work that you are passionate about. Once you identify your passion, you need to recognize the importance of extensive practice in developing expertise in your work. Finally, the advice that my mother gave me is interestingly also recommended by experts —– sometimes you just need to push or soldier on through the tough times. Leadership is after all a journey with ups and downs and having grit will help you on the road to success.
Read to Lead
Duckworth, Angela. TED Talk (April 2013). The Key to Success: Grit.
Mochari, I. (February 2014). True Leaders have Grit. Inc. Magazine Website.
© emergingrnleader.com 2014