What Happens at the Intersection of Grit and Growth?

Often we hear about the pursuit of a growth mindset in an effort to shift our thought process away from incremental thinking towards exponential growth. You may possess incredible amounts of true ownership, take the deepest of dives into core business issues, and spark invention with gusto while thinking big, small, and sideways.

Even if you leave incremental thinking in the dust and truly embrace a growth mindset, what happens then? You put the batteries in—why won’t it work?

Grit.

You’re going to need some grit.

No one can teach it to you, hand it to you, or give a speech that will inspire you to put this tool in your box.

“Grit and a growth mindset are essential to thrive in today’s highly dynamic world,” says Chirag Thakker, Strategic Initiatives at Deloitte. “The days of primarily relying on industry expertise and knowledge are gone as industries are constantly being disrupted and evolving, requiring new skill sets and perspectives at each turn. Instead, a persistent attitude and ability to learn are key. These will help drive you forward.”

Understanding the difference between grit and a growth mindset

Let’s take a step back to define the difference between these two misunderstood terms, and then identify how they interact with one another.

Grit: A concept developed by Penn professor Angela Duckworth, grit is courage and conscientiousness. Gritty people are achievement-oriented rather than dependent. They demonstrate endurance and follow-through, and resilience with optimism, confidence, and creativity. Excellence and service reign over perfectionism. 

Growth mindset: A personal commitment to the idea that hard work is necessary to achieve growth. A love of learning and resilience for accomplishing goals. The perspective that failure is an opportunity to grow. 

Notably, these definitions overlap—they both include resilience, an ability to recover quickly, and toughness gained from difficulty. In other words, they both require us to confront our most common fear—failure. At this intersection between grit and the growth mindset, failure is paramount.

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Failure is an important part of the journey

I’ve stood at this intersection and experienced pure failure. Failure visits me like an old friend. We shake hands, learn from one another, and move forward.

I’ve managed underperforming teams and vendors, low market demand, and revenue gaps riddled with issues—sometimes all at the same time. None of these problems are solved in a day or even a month. Guiding teams through the tough times, such as these, requires resilience.

So could we equate resilience with grit? Not exactly. I think resilience is a part or component of grit. Resilience is the ability to bounce back despite all odds, while grit is the overall strength of someone’s character. And a growth mindset powers one’s ability to visualize and aspire to improvement while accepting that failure is a part of that journey.

If you have a team that’s lacking grit but expanding their growth mindset, should you permit and even encourage failure to help them experience this important growth process? Yes. But we’re not talking about a banana peel in the hallway here.

How to build resilience

Swooping in to save the day and be the hero (you know who you are) on a wayward project isn’t the best way to build psychological resilience on your team. I lean on grit to propel me past failures, and I make an effort to let my team develop this same skill. In this post, I’m focusing on strategies for individuals to develop this skill. This will be your foundation, and in my next post, I will address how to sharpen these skills as a team.

Here are seven ways to help you better develop your grit and growth mindset:

  1. Discard entitlement. Don’t be a distant manager or jump in halfway. Invest in your work and relationships with authenticity, regardless of your title or experience.
  2. Demonstrate kindness. Work for concierge-level excellence in service at every touchpoint. Show kindness with co-workers, customers, friends, family, everyone.
  3. Shadow projects that are outside your comfort zone. Assign yourself and your team to projects that encourage stretching outside of the normal routine. As a leader, put yourself in the trenches and demonstrate how to learn with humility.
  4. Strive for progress and professionalism over people-pleasing. Project success is difficult to achieve and relationship management is often the most important component of the work. Focus yourself and your team on success and don’t overlook the need to be direct when managing and interacting with others. I highly recommend fine-tuning the art of radical candor.
  5. Seek true ownership and manage it responsibly. Own your work and its results and be sure to continue to take initiative even when things don’t turn out as you expect. Reward others who also display drive, especially when they falter.
  6. Create opportunities for creativity. Allow space to experiment and assure your team that their efforts will have an impact. To spark new and original ideas, try to limit resources to encourage scrappiness.
  7. Identify and call out fear-based decision making. Examine the way you and your team make decisions and make sure that you are playing to win rather than to avoid losing. Use candor to identify and overcome fear-based decision making with yourself and with teammates.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a team leader, the changes you make to arrive at the intersection between grit and growth mindset will have a serious impact. In our rapidly-changing world, the ability to conquer fear and failure with resilience has become a critical skill, and you can and should promote this attitude from every level of the organization. Lift up those around you, whether or not it’s your job.

“A person with a growth mindset has the passion and the patience for the long game,” says Elektra Helde, Sr. Marketing Manager at a leading SAAS provider. “They are the marathoner—they believe in the end goal, they see failed attempts as temporary. They are inherently gritty because they are brave. They persevere, they test, they iterate and eventually they succeed. There is no success without the vision and the courage to set fear aside, and make it happen.”

Taking grit and growth beyond individuals to your teams

We’ve touched on how an individual might use perseverance to overcome daily tests and challenges until he or she achieves success. It is important to note that the individual who shows grit often benefits from the results and the stamina it creates. But how can these strategies be extended to a team?

“Grit is a prerequisite for any growth. In the beginning, it’s messy, painful and often confusing. Progress will only come to those who persevere,” says Gregg Carey, Managing Director of Leadership and Education at Singularity University.

We’ve covered how to better leverage the combination of grit and the growth mindset at an individual level, and this combination is just as important but quite nuanced at the team level. Progress can be achieved by your teammates’ individual abilities to overcome challenges, but externalities can often impact success and limit progress. Does this frustrating story sound familiar? How do we come together as a team to combat these challenges?  In my next post, we’ll discuss how to develop these traits on your teams and scale them throughout your organization.

In the meantime, be sure to watch our on-demand webinar featuring Gregg, entitled “Breaking the Patterns and Habits that Create Siloed Efforts Within Organizations” which addresses how to shift your team’s mindset to better react to and overcome organizational, team and individual challenges. We hope you tune in.