Working in Human Resources often means having to overcome one roadblock after another. If you’re the type who likes keeping the company’s goals in mind, a day in the life of an HR practitioner would give you a soul-crushing list of disillusionments: employee complaints, attrition, disciplinary actions, salary disputes, and legal issues. It’s as if your job is to deal with the corporate world’s underbelly — a role you’d only be perfect for if you’re made of sterner stuff. If you have enough grit.

Grit has come a long way from being a pop psychology concept to being a business buzzword. More and more, businesses are realizing that, aside from brains, their talent also has to have some sort of emotional brawn. A combination of determination and dedication, of passion and perseverance. This is how Angela Duckworth defines ‘grit’ in her 2016 book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Grit is what you need to succeed

In the book, Duckworth explains how grit and success go hand in hand.

“The highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”

Having grit means exuding both passion and perseverance. Someone who is ‘passionate’ has two qualities:

(1) the ability to work with distant objects in view,

(2) the tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability.

Passion, then, is characterized by having long-term goals and the ability to fight new, seemingly more interesting distractions. It’s about having foresight, a clear set of goals, and a laser-focused drive to reach those goals.

Meanwhile, one can tell that an individual is persevering when he or she has the following:

(1) the ability to display a strength of will or quiet determination,

(2) the tendency not to abandon tasks in the presence of obstacles.

Perseverance, says Duckworth, means remaining in pursuit of your goals despite setbacks.

A formula for achievement

If there’s one thing that the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance can change a lot of people’s mind about, it’s the value of effort in unlocking achievements. For Duckworth, talent can only give you some advantages and take you so far, whereas effort can determine whether you will end up where you you want to be. Duckworth explains the importance of effort in these two formulas.

  • Skill = Talent x Effort

  • Achievement = Skill x Effort

Without exerting some effort, there is no way you can use your talents and skills to achieve something. Talent, says Duckworth, is merely “how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort.” This explains why, over time, people who put a tremendous amount of effort on a particular task are more likely to finish it that their “gifted” colleagues — your famed Hare-vs-Tortoise story.

How to grow your grit

So how does one develop grit? In the book, Duckworth gives us four things to cultivate in order to awaken our ideal, achieving selves:

  • Interest – how we enjoy, nay, love or work;

  • Practice – our willingness to dedicate time for improving our talents and skills;

  • Purpose – the awareness of how our work matters to people other than ourselves;

  • Hope – the belief that our efforts can help us make a difference and succeed.

Simple? The American Management Association (AMA), which also studies how grit can help us accomplish our goals, points to four other specific things to work on, another four-part model of grit.

  • Growth mindset – A way of looking at life defined by the ability (and courage) to say “I am not limited in my options. I can change paths without changing course.”

  • Self-efficacy – Having the “can-do” attitude, or belief in our own ability to complete a particular task.

  • Personal control – Reflects our confidence that “the outcomes of our actions are dependent on what we do.” It’s being able to say “I act upon the world, it does not act upon me.”

  • Learned optimism – Defined by the attitude “I expect the best.” It can be remembered that Psychologist Martin Seligman once proved that keeping a positive outlook in life can be learned.

Tip: One notable trait of people with grit is their ability to control their own perception of negative situations and feedback. To manage negative emotions in the face of adversity (or of what appears to so) and bounce back easily, AMA suggests learning to repeat the phrase “All that’s happening (or happened) is… [insert negative situation].” For example: “All that’s happening is… I have an entire company’s time records to check in two hours.” “All that’s happening is… the candidate has asked for a more competitive compensation package.” This practice helps push the belief that you’re on top of the problem before you, that you can both handle it and handle it well.

Grit figures into HR

Now that we’ve talked about what grit is and how we can cultivate it, you may be wondering how it can help you become not just a better employee in general, but also a better Human Resources practitioner, someone who’s really good at what he or she does. Let’s look at the simple ways that will allow you to be the HR professional and leader you want to be.

Always think of how your work benefits employees

Duckworth mentioned that one’s sense of purpose is an important component of grit, and it’s apparent from your title whom you should build your work’s purpose around: your company’s human resources. Every single thing you do should be about the most important asset of your business, so it matters that you think about how even the smallest of your decisions may affect employees — and that you derive satisfaction from doing so.

Understand that it takes time — and a lot of mistakes — to be really good at something

In HR, you’re often asked to leave your comfort zone and accomplish something that’s new to you. Novelty and changes — they’re to be expected of a broad and continuously growing field such as the one you’re in. In her book, Duckworth strongly recommends that you bear in mind that making mistakes and failing are normal. They’re what you get out of exerting efforts, out of simply being in your profession. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. Never let one bog you down and hamper your determination to carry out a task.

Trust the journey and yourself

Some say that being in Human Resources often feels like reaching a dead end. Others agree that the field entails a lot of problematic ambiguity, of not knowing what trouble or setback tomorrow will bring. Allowing to let such thoughts fill you up and not knowing how to perceive them in a positive light can dampen your spirit and hurt your motivation, your productivity. Embracing the growth mindset can change the way you look at difficulties, at the things that usually dampen your mood when the going gets tough.

Weave grit into your company culture

What better way can we be stewards of grit other than by letting others see the value of it? If you’re a leader, you can encourage your people to develop grit by being both supportive and demanding. Yes, you read that right: supportive and demanding. Experts say that balancing high expectations and goals with support, encouragement, and training can make you the leader that your team needs. Employees who were put under such a management approach have been shown to feel “fulfilled, supported, empowered, and comfortable [with] taking risks.”

As a parting shot, here’s a perfectly inspiring quote from Duckworth that you can keep in mind and ponder.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”


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