Vice President and Centric Columbus Practice Lead Gina Heffner explores key leadership traits and outlines steps to increase your own “grittiness” factor.
Not too long ago, I was asked to write an article sharing my ideas and experiences on “Growing Your Leadership Skills.” The goal was, “reflect on what you think are the traits of a good leader and how one can strengthen and grow these core traits.”
As I do most often before starting a project, I decided to do a bit of research. My goal was to ground myself in several different perspectives before honing in on my own conclusions.
As you would expect, there are countless books and articles written on the subject of leadership and how one should go about growing and developing their own leadership skills. Most writings on this topic boil down to the following set of core actions:
- Making a decision to learn and grow – This notion is listed as the most important key behavior in almost everything I read: effective leaders are passionate about expanding and stretching their knowledge in a variety of different areas, i.e., rather than relying on a set of natural capabilities and talents, you must become well-rounded through continuous education. One article suggested taking the TED Talk MBA. As an avid consumer of TED Talks, I would agree that they are a great way to expose yourself to a myriad of innovative and creative thought leaders and ideas from around the world.
- Learning through practical, hands-on experience – Learning occurs in situations that stretch your current capabilities and provide challenges that require growth. You must be willing to take on special projects or step into new situations that may at first feel out of the comfort zone. If you are in a role where you feel growth has stagnated, take a look at your current job and determine how you can re-shape it. The key is to draw lessons and insights from each experience and apply that new knowledge and skills to the next experience.
- Working with a career coach or mentor – Getting assistance from a professional career coach can also help one in becoming a higher performer; indeed, several articles noted that a career coach can help you learn faster from your successes and failures. Mentors can also be helpful. By carefully watching leaders that you admire and trust, you can learn from their mistakes and draw conclusions on how you could have done it differently or even better.
- Teaching and coaching others – Another core trait of a developing leader is a passion and commitment to help others in their growth. Good leaders walk the walk and talk the talk. Becoming a better leader starts with portraying the behaviors and qualities that you would like to see in your team.
The key behaviors noted above all seemed straightforward and full of common sense. Is it reasonable to assume that if an individual commits to taking these actions, they inherently become a better leader? My conclusion is…maybe.
Grit – The Key to Leadership Growth
Something in this vanilla list seemed absent in my research. I thought about the leaders that I’ve been inspired to follow and emulate throughout my own career. What is it that makes them great leaders? Why are they the ones who seem to achieve a high bar, and then continually jump over those bars to keep getting better and better? Is there a single quality that, if developed and practiced, would allow each one of us to become a better leader?
I already mentioned that I’m a big fan of TED talks. Recently, I stumbled across a TED talk given by Angela Duckworth and her research on “grit.” Grit is defined by Webster’s as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.”
Duckworth’s definition of grit is “sustained perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Grit! THAT’s the quality I’d been searching to describe, the competency that I have observed in those that seem to achieve their goals, sometimes against all odds. Grit was the theme that was missing from my researched list above.
So, based on research and my own personal experiences, my conclusion is that grit – a relentless desire to succeed, a resolute stick-to-itiveness – is something that can be developed and thus harnessed in one’s pursuit of leadership growth. I don’t contend that grit alone will make you a better leader; I do believe there are other important behaviors that must be observed and put into action. However, I do agree that an individual can take steps to increase his or her “grittiness” factor, ultimately obtaining a higher level of leadership capability:
- Set goals – Goal orientation is core to being gritty. During the goal-setting process, it’s essential to force yourself to think in both long and broad terms, i.e., what do you plan to achieve in 3, 5, 10 years? How do family, friends and colleagues fit into your vision? What skills do you and/or your team need to learn or develop that you don’t have today? Set your goals, track your goals, and be vocal about what your goals are. Dream big and focus on those things that you can control. Be creative in getting around those things in which you can’t. Most importantly, DON’T QUIT.
- Surround yourself (and your team) with those that will help you achieve your goals – Research shows that you become most like the five people with whom you spend the most time. Take stock in who is influencing your life and your career: Are these people positive? Do they give you energy? Are they solution-driven? Don’t allow the people that you hang out with to distract you from your goals. Shape your life by making a conscious decision on whom you are choosing to spend time.
- Look at failure as a stepping stone to success – Gritty people look at failure as temporary and maintain their efforts and interest in their goals despite pitfalls and adversity. Indeed, failure is often why successful people succeed: They learn from falling down and then get back up and apply these learnings the next time. Some of the most successful people have encountered disappointing setbacks:
- Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper and was told he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
- H. Macy started seven failed businesses before he finally opened the very popular and successful department store in New York.
- Oprah Winfrey was fired early in her career as a TV reporter because she was told she was “unfit for TV.”
- Dr. Seuss had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers.
- Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout and started a failed first business called Traf-O-Data.
- Define your own values – Much like a company defines a set of core values that guides how they think and operate as an organization, you too must determine your own set of values that you will use during your journey to achieving your goals. For instance, a value you might set for yourself is resiliency. If you embrace the idea that failure can lead to a whole lot of success, you must believe in being resilient, in getting back up, course correcting and continuing to push forward.
- Practice with a purpose – In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, he says that to be the best, you need to do 10 percent more than ordinary people. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he points to research that states in order to master a skill it takes 10,000 hours of practice. In my own experience, to be successful, to grow as a person and as a leader, it takes learning and it takes sacrifice. There are no shortcuts, and luck is rarely the largest contributing factor. It takes practice, practice, practice, and it’s your grit that keeps you coming back each day, focused on mastering each skill on your roadmap to achieving your goals.
Set your goals, track your goals and be vocal about what your goals are. Dream big and focus on those things you can control. . . most importantly, DON’T QUIT.
How’s Your Grit?
Take Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale and test yourself on your own level of grittiness.