From Grit to Greatness

Grit has been identified as a critical component of success (Lechner, Danner, and Rammstedt, 2019). Synonymous with “backbone” and “fortitude”, grit enables leaders to pursue their goals till their completion and continue despite difficulties (Merriam-Webster). But what really is “grit”? What are some examples of gritty individuals? How do people with “grit” behave? What does current research say about grit? How do we assess how much grit job applicants have and how do we encourage grit in our lives and the lives of our executives? Continue reading to find out.



“As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.” ― Angela Duckworth, Grit

What is grit?

Grit is what pushes individuals to success, past their challenges, and to their best self. It is what makes the difference between those conquered by challenges and conquers of their challenges. Angela Duckworth’s book states that grit is made of passion and perseverance (2018). It is “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger” (Merriam-Webster). Grit is when goals are achieved despite the challenges. It is created by a passion to succeed and the perseverance to keep going despite obstacles for extended periods of time.


Traits of those with grit

Individuals that have an increased amount of grit are also more likely to have the following traits:

  1. Fewer job changes. Gritty individuals are more likely to stay at their current jobs despite challenges in order to further develop their careers (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009).

  2. Courage in the face of adversity. When gritty individuals face challenges, they move forward despite the fear of failure.

  3. Vigilance. Gritty individuals are aware of their goals and their progress towards their goals.

  4. Perseverance. Gritty individuals don’t give up when faced with setbacks or obstacles

  5. Resilience. Gritty individuals “recover quickly from difficulties”

  6. Purposeful. Gritty individuals have a personal purpose or meaning to their goals (SACAPP, 2019).

  7. Relational. Gritty individuals have deeper connections when they see relationships as a meaningful goal.

  8. Hopeful. Gritty individuals maintain the hope that their goals are achievable and will be achieved.

  9. Humility. Gritty individuals “don’t need anyone’s approval or praise” in order to boost their “self-esteem.”

  10. Self confidence. Gritty individuals are self-confident in their abilities and aren’t afraid to “bet on themselves.”

  11. Focused. Gritty individuals are able to stay focused on the specific goals that hold meaning to them.

  12. Stubborn. Gritty individuals can display stubbornness in the pursuit of their goals. They often refuse to give up until their goal is reached.

  13. Learns from failure. Gritty individuals learn from their failures in order to better face challenges ahead in order to meet their goals.

  14. Authentic. Gritty individuals are not afraid of challenges and mistakes. Because they are authentically themselves and “comfortable in their own skin.”

  15. Growth mindset. Gritty individuals have a growth mindset and believe that they can achieve their goals with enough hard work (Miller, n.d.).


Examples of those with grit


Thomas Edison the Inventor

Grit turns goals into reality and pulls entrepreneurial leaders such as Thomas Edison into the history books as monumental leaders. Dave Lavinsky shares Thomas Edison’s story as a shining example of grit and perseverance. As a child, Thomas Edison was expelled from school and labeled as “stupid” and “unteachable.” By the time he was 21, he had been fired from multiple jobs including one with a telegraph company. However, Thomas never stopped pursuing his true passion: inventing. His resilience led him to create one of the most impactful inventions in the twentieth century: the lightbulb. Using knowledge from other inventors, Thomas Edison was able to create the first “practical” and “affordable” option “for home illumination” (Latson, 2014). Without the Grit of Thomas Edison, the fabric of our modern lifestyle would be forever altered.


Ursula Burns: CEO of Xerox

Ursula Burns was CEO and chairman of Xerox, an “international document-management business services company.” Ursula was the “first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the first female to accede to the position of CEO.... in succession after another female.” Ursula faced her own challenges in her life that required grit to overcome. She was raised in a low-income housing project by a single mother who worked multiple jobs for her to attend a preparatory school. Ursula didn’t let her childhood economic position hold her back in life. She excelled in grade school and soon graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York University. After this, she graduated with her master’s in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. Her time with Xerox began as a summer mechanical-engineering intern and rose to become a full-time employee. Over her time in Xerox, she broadened her areas of leadership and was promoted to president in 2007. She remained president till 2016. During her time as CEO of Xerox, she helped United States President Barack Obama lead the STEM Education Coalition, was a member of the President’s Export Council and served as a board member for various companies including Exxon Mobil, Uber, and VEON (Nolen, 2020). Evidenced in her thriving academics and career success, Ursula overcame the challenges of growing up in a low-income area with an immense amount of grit. In Ursula’s story specifically, she displayed grit by not giving up in her pursuit of a degree and grit in her continual pursuit of career development even after being hired on by Xerox.


“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” ― Thomas A. Edison

Research supporting grit

Angela Duckworth, one of the leading researchers of grit, defines grit as the “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” (Duckworth et al., 2007). In Duckworth’s presentation with TED Talks, she explains how she stumbled upon the idea of grit. As she taught 7th-grade math, she noticed that IQ was not the determining factor of success in her students. Because of this, she sought to find out what the determining factors of success are and found the concept of “grit.” She has since become a psychologist and further researched the “one characteristic” that "emerged as a significant predictor of success... grit” (Duckworth, 2013). Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly discuss grit in their research as a factor that encourages individuals to work “strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress” (2007). They state that individuals with grit see achievements as a “marathon” not a sprint (Duckworth et al., 2007). In the research done by Katherine Von Culin, Eli Tsukayama, & Angela Duckworth, data showed that grit has much to do with engaging in one’s goals intentionally. It has little to do with the emotional desire for pleasure, but much to do with goals, purpose in life, and seeking “happiness through engagement” (Katherine et al., 2014).


In 2007, Duckworth and her team set out to determine if grit correlated with success level and how to measure grit in a series of six studies. These six studies sought to understand how to measure grit accurately and further identify the traits of grit. Their findings are summarized below:


Study 1: Grit is developed through time

Their first study was done using an online platform and a questionnaire they called the “Grit Scale” (Duckworth et al., 2007). This first study determined grit by the number of academic achievements obtained by individuals. They found that in individuals of the same age, those with greater academic achievements also had greater amounts of grit than those with less academic achievements. Their research also revealed that as age increased so do levels of grit leading them to state that their “intuition is that grit grows with age and that one learns from experience…” (Duckworth et al.,2007)


Study 2: Grit is related to conscientiousness and perseverance

Duckworth et al.’s second study was set in the same online platform and contained revisions to the “Grit Scale” (2007). They added the Big Five Inventory created by John and Srivastava in 1999 which measures extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness (Duckworth et al., 2007). After analyzing the questionnaire results, they determined that grit was more related to conscientiousness than neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, or openness (Duckworth et al., 2007). They also noticed in their research that those with less grit were more likely to self-identify as “frequent career changers.” (Duckworth et al., 2007) These findings indicate that conscientiousness or the “tendency to be responsible, organized, hard-working, goal-directed, and to adhere to norms and rules” is positively correlated grit (Psychology Today). Furthermore, grit can also be measured by the number of career changes a person has. This further instills the concept that grit is closely related to perseverance.


Study 3: Grit’s relation to grade point average in adults

In their third study, Duckworth and sought to understand if grit and educational attainment were correlated with “undergraduates at an elite university” (Duckworth et al., 2007). To answer this question they sent out an invitation to complete their grit scale and questionnaire that focused on “GPA, expected year of graduation, and SAT scores.” Overall, students with greater levels of grit had higher GPAs than those with lower levels of grit. However, grit was also “associated with lower SAT scores” (Duckworth et al., 2007). This finding was seen as “surprising” and indicates that perhaps those with lower IQs might “compensate by working harder and with more determination” (Duckworth et al., 2007).


Study 4 & 5: Grit is related to success through adversity

To understand the influence of grit on goal accomplishment in the midst of challenges and adversity, Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly studied a group of freshman cadets in the elite United States Military Academy, West Point. Cadets “completed questionnaires during a routine institutional group testing activity on the 2nd and 3rd days after arrival to West Point in June 2004” (Duckworth et al., 2007). They completed the scales and questionnaires that measured grit, self-control, and the whole candidate score (“composite of high school rank; SAT score; leadership potential score; and physical aptitude exam”). Their data was saved and then given a score for “summer retention” which stated whether or not they had quit the intensive military training prior to completion of the summer semester. After the data was analyzed, it was found that grit related only to self-control and that grit was a better predictor of summer retention “than any other predictor” (Duckworth et al., 2007). Candidates with greater amounts of grit, regardless of other measures, had a higher chance of completing the summer training program, sometimes called the “Beast Barracks” (Duckworth et al., 2007). This program was “deliberately engineered to test the very limits of cadets’ physical, emotional, and mental capacities” (Duckworth et al., 2007). Because of the correlation between grit and summer retention we can infer that grit is a motivating force towards goal achievement or completion despite challenges faced. It is grit that brings the individual to the next level of success and pushes them to goal completion.


Study 6: Grit’s relation to avocational accomplishments and time practicing

In Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly’s final study on grit, they studied a group of National Spelling Bee finalists (2007). They sought to understand how grit affected avocation (or hobby) accomplishments and how grit related to time practicing the task. Included in the traditional paperwork of spelling bees was a questionnaire for students that contained measures of grit, self-control, and verbal IQ (Duckworth et al., 2007). They found that children with higher levels of grit moved further in the competition than those without as much grit. They also found that students with more grit studied more and spent more time practicing which can explain why those with more grit moved farther in the competition. Furthermore, they found that Verbal IQ was the best predictor of whether or not a child would reach the final round of the Spelling Bee. However, Duckworth and her team state that they “speculate that grit would have been a significant predictor” as well as verbal IQ if they would have “obtained verbal IQ data on more children” (Duckworth et al., 2007). This increase in the importance of verbal IQ can also be attributed by the longer periods of studying done by peers with more grit. (Duckworth et al., 2007). These findings allow us to conclude that grit supports practice and goal attainment even in hobbies or avocational goals.


How do we build grit?

Best-Selling author and mental trainer, Patrick Edblad outlines five ways to build grit in his article titled: “This is How you Grow Your Grit: 5 Secrets From Research.” Below we outline his five tips on growing grit.


Pursue your passion

Patrick Edblad cites Angela Duckworth as the originator of this idea of finding something you are “passionate” about and pursuing it wholeheartedly. Chasing a goal that has personal meaning to you and is your own unique passion ensures greater fortitude against challenges and setbacks because of your pre-existing emotional investment in the topic. Having your own personal motivation for a career goal is an essential stamina builder on the marathon to success (Duckworth et al., 2007).


Practice makes perfect

Secondly, Edblad states that practice is essential for building grit. By putting “in the work to get a little better every day” we can build our grittiness towards adversity and learn to embrace challenges (2017). This is supported by the first study reviewed in Duckworth et al’s research (2007). They found that as individuals got older and had more learning experiences their levels of grit increased (Duckworth et al., 2007). Intentionally practicing grit by continuing in the pursuit of goals despite challenges, even in small daily goals, can greatly improve our ability to maintain a stance of grit when more challenging circumstances arise.


"More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence." — John C. Maxwell

Find your why

This purpose-driven thinking is vital to grit and success. Edblad recommends connecting to a “higher purpose” and taking a “step back” to “understand how what you do” can “contribute to the well-being of others” (2017). In each episode of the Arete Coach podcast, interviewees are asked what their “why” is. Tune into the Arete Coach Podcast for some great examples of living a life with purpose.


Cultivate hope

Edblad believes that cultivating hope can help increase grittiness by increasing the belief that goal attainment is in fact possible (2017). Inspire your own grittiness by seeing your goals as genuinely attainable. By doing this, you are further encouraging your own grittiness and reminding yourself of the reward ahead. Duckworth supports Edblads ideas of cultivating hope specifically in her research when she defines having grit as the “belief that the ability to learn is not fixed” (Duckworth et al., 2007).


Learn from the best

Lastly, Edblad recommends surrounding “yourself with gritty people.” Edblad believes that “their norms and values will rub off on you” as you are inspired by your front-row seat to their innovation and actions (2017). By further developing relationships with gritty individuals and developing your own mindset that correlates with the ideas of grit such as perseverance, purpose, and resilience, grit you can intentionally further develop your own grittiness.


Questions that inspire grit

With acknowledgment to the directions on how to build grit outlined by Edblad, we have crafted several questions that can be used by executive coaches to encourage executives and CEOs to develop grit in their own lives.

  • Imagine the best possible outcome. What is in your way from reaching this outcome? Have you let it stop you?

  • How is your passion involved in your business plan?

  • How can you build endurance that will help you achieve your goals?

  • Do you see failures as final or temporary and why?

  • What have you learned previously? How can you apply that to this situation?

  • How can you learn from this situation?

  • How does ___ affect others?

  • Does ____ have an impact on your goals and aspirations?

  • What is your “why” and how does this affect your decision?

  • Does ____ hold personal importance to you?

  • What are some positive outcomes of ___?

  • Do you believe you can accomplish your goals?

  • Have you succeeded from a similar situation in the past? What did that teach you?

  • Who do you look up to? How do they display grit?

  • Have you seen grit displayed before?

  • How do you think ____ developed grit?

  • What are some examples of grit you gain insight from?


Questions that assess grit

Grit is a valuable characteristic to look for when hiring new employees or executives. As stated previously, individuals with more grit tend to stay at jobs longer than those with less grit (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009). When challenges come, you can expect employees with grit to continue pursuing the goal at hand. Gritty employees understand that failures are temporary and are motivated to pursue success (Miller, 2018). The following are questions that can be used in interviews to assess the amount of grit a candidate has.

  1. Have you turned any of your dreams into reality?

  2. How do you bounce back from failure?

  3. Tell me about a time where you worked on a project for an extended period of time. How did you stay engaged?

  4. How do you respond to difficult situations?

  5. How likely are you to get distracted when working toward a goal for a long period of time?

  6. How do you manage stress? (Reddy, n.d.)

  7. Can you share with me a time when you displayed persistence?

  8. What is something that you are passionate about? How have you acted on this passion?


The grit-scale

Angela Duckworth, the lead researcher of grit created a short questionnaire that analyzes the amount of grit in an individual. Assessing candidate’s grit with this scale is a reliable and accredited way to ensure you’re hiring gritty employees. However, it is important to note that when candidates are doing this questionnaire, they may alter their answers to make themselves appear more gritty than they actually are. Because of this, it is beneficial to also ask questions that assess grit during interviews in the form of open-ended questions.


What does it all mean?

Grit has been shown to be a key factor of success and goal attainment by research from Duckworth and her associates (Duckworth et al., 2019). Grit is learned, developed over time, aids in goal completion, and has a direct relation to perseverance. By supporting your own sense of grit, you can further develop the resilience and stamina to face challenges ahead with purpose, stamina, and success. Coaches can exemplify grit to their clients by reaching their own personal goals and sharing their experiences with grit development. This personal adoption of a key to success encourages clients to embrace grit in their own lives and gives coaches the opportunity to offer insight when necessary. Furthermore, clients that exhibit greater signs of grit are more likely to continue striving for their personal best. Much like the cadets in Duckworth’s research on grit in boot camp perseverance, clients that receive coaching are pushed to challenge their personal best and strive for greater success.


"Heroes are never perfect, but they're brave, they're authentic, they're courageous, determined, discreet, and they've got grit." — Wade Davis

References

About Angela Duckworth. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://angeladuckworth.com/research/


Duckworth, A. L. (2013, May) Grit: The power of passion and perseverance [Video] TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance/up-next?language=en


Duckworth, A. (2018). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.


Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087


Duckworth, A. L., & Quinn, P. D. (2009). Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit–S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(2), 166-174. doi:10.1080/00223890802634290


Duckworth, A. L., Quirk, A., Gallop, R., Kelly, D. R., & Matthews, M. D. (2019). Correction for Duckworth et al., Cognitive and noncognitive predictors of success. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(52), 27163-27163. doi:10.1073/pnas.1920625117


Edblad, P. (2017). This is How to Grow Your Grit: 5 Secrets From Research. Retrieved from https://betterhumans.pub/this-is-how-to-grow-your-grit-5-secrets-from-research-9c78c803093e


Katherine R. Von Culin, Eli Tsukayama & Angela L. Duckworth (2014) Unpacking grit: Motivational correlates of perseverance and passion for long-term goals, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9:4, 306-312, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.898320


Latson, J. (2014, October 21). Thomas Edison Invents Light Bulb and Myths About Himself. Retrieved from https://time.com/3517011/thomas-edison/


Lavinsky, D. (n.d.). 7 Entrepreneurs Whose Perseverance Will Inspire You. Retrieved from https://www.growthink.com/content/7-entrepreneurs-whose-perseverance-will-inspire-you


Lechner, C. M., Danner, D., & Rammstedt, B. (2019). Grit (effortful persistence) can be measured with a short scale, shows little variation across socio-demographic subgroups, and is associated with career success and career engagement. Plus One, 14(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0224814


Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved April 26th, 2021, from Grit | Definition of Grit by Merriam-Webster

Miller, C. (n.d.). How to Get More Grit: 10 Traits That Every Authentically Gritty Person Needs. Retrieved from https://www.carolinemiller.com/authentically-gritty/

Miller, J. (2018, February 26). TED Talk Tuesday: Why You Want Gritty Employees. Retrieved from https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/blogs/ted-talk-tuesday-why-you-want-gritty-employees/

Nolen, J. L. (202). Ursula Burns. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ursula-Burns

Psychology Today. (n.d.). Conscientiousness. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/conscientiousness


SACAP The South African College of Applied Psychology. (2019, September 30). What is grit? These are the 5 characteristics. Retrieved from https://www.sacap.edu.za/blog/applied-psychology/what-is-grit/


Reddy, C. (n.d.). Top 8 Interview Questions to Assess Grit and Resiliency. Retrieved from https://content.wisestep.com/interview-questions-assess-grit/




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