The power of grit, and how to tell if you have it

December 4, 2019

In addition to being CEO of a company that hires lots of talented people, I am also a partner in a venture capital fund that invests in early stage startups. So, I am frequently asked what qualities I look for in startup entrepreneurs and future employees. For years, my answer has always been the same: grit, grit, oh and, grit.

I say this not just because there are studies aplenty testifying to the power of grit. (An interesting new study, for instance, says grit is the No. 1 trait predicting success at the incredibly demanding West Point Military Academy, even more important than physical or mental aptitude.)

And no reference to grit would be complete without mentioning the excellent book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth has been making the speaking circuit rounds for the past couple years and it always inspires. For her, grit is the sine-qua-non of true success.

I love grit for three major reasons:

1)    Whether you are in a start-up or a scaled-up business, some things will go wrong and you will need to overcome obstacle after obstacle without losing faith in your purpose.

2)    I believe that the best things in life and history are developed over extended periods of time.

3)    Because, in the dictionary, the first definition of grit actually refers to a small bit of stone, gravel or sand that causes discomfort or clogs machinery. Yup, in my view, success isn’t smooth sailing, it doesn’t come quickly, and it often requires creating friction…to the status quo.

My ultimate definition of grit would combine the definitions of grit (minute particles of stone or sand; strength of character; pluck, endurance, stamina), tenacity (firmness of hold or purpose; cohesiveness, toughness; viscosity; stickiness) and resilience (the action or an act of rebounding or springing back; the ability to recover readily from, or resist being affected by a setback, illness, etc.).

In action, the combined qualities of these three powerful words look like this:

  • The courage to try something new and take a different path.
  • The drive to improve every day.
  • Making choices and dealing with consequences.
  • Confronting yourself with your blind spots and opportunities for growth.
  • Speaking your mind and holding your tongue. (Gritty people know when the right time for each is.)
  • Enduring the seemingly unendurable.
  • Being a good example.
  • Seeing the world as it is, not as we wish it would be.
  • Perseverance in the face of criticism.
  • The determination to finish what you started, the courage to stop doing what isn’t working, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Grit is also daring to lead.

And the willingness to stray from the herd.

And ceaselessly seeking new ways and perspectives.

It is preparation and planning in pursuit of a long-term vision.

It is lifting others up.

It is bringing others along with you.

It is toughness.

It is kindness.

It is gratitude.

It is self-respect and respect for others.

It is deciding to decide. (This is not something most people are good at.)

Most of all, grit is an attitude – a day-in, day-out, get-things-done mindset of determination and relentless positivity.

Gritty people move the world.

May you always be one of them.