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What Grit Means for Your Success

The workshop was focused entirely on designing the next phase of your business – the kind of business that supports the life you want to live. During an intense day and a half, a small group of advisors asked themselves tough questions about the businesses they really wanted to create. They dug deep to create a powerful vision for the future. And they got very real about the things that stood in the way.

The session was the kick-off to our Absolute Engagement Experience program and I had the real privilege of observing the start of 15 separate transformations.

Those transformations could best be described as going from successful to extraordinary. These weren’t advisors struggling to find their way. They were advisors who had already succeeded, by any traditional standards, but who were looking to proactively design the next phase of their businesses so that it was characterized by both meaning and momentum.

What I had suspected (and what was clearly true) was that defining a meaningful personal vision for your business can be messy. By ‘personal vision’ I’m referring to a clear statement of the clients you want to work with, the work you want to do and the role you want to play on the team. It takes time and iteration and it takes commitment to a cycle of dreaming, writing, assessing and dreaming some more.

But here’s the point I wanted to share with you today (and thanks for your patience in letting me get here). One by one, these advisors who participated articulated a personal and business vision that was clear, powerful, meaningful and energizing and two things were very clear.

  • When you get it right, your vision is something that is powerful for you, your team and your clients. And as soon each participant ‘cracked the code’ and stated their vision out loud, everyone had a visceral reaction that said “that’s it – that’s what you need to focus on”. A well-crafted vision creates an almost emotional response. That’s how you know you have it right.
  • This was only the beginning. With their personal and business visions crafted, these advisors would need to draw on a well of strength or tenacity or perseverance or something to keep them moving toward that goal.
  • What I didn’t realize in that moment, but did very soon afterwards, is that this group would need a hefty dose of ‘Authentic Grit’.

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    Let’s face it, the tactics we apply in our businesses are the easy part. One of the hardest things the greatest advisors do is craft a vision that will act as a lightening rod for action, pull them through when inertia raises its ugly head and act as a catalyst for growth. Far harder than knowing which is the best tactic is defining a goal with purpose and cultivating the skills to relentlessly pursue that goal.

    To design the business that supports the life you want to live requires grit. It is an intentional process and we don’t drift to extraordinary, although drifting is far easier.

    To ensure that the group I described at the outset takes action, I’ll be sending each of the participants a copy of a book called Getting Grit, by Caroline Adams Miller. I wanted to tell you about it too because I think the concept is critical to your ability to design and achieve a bigger or different future for you and for your business.

    What is Authentic Grit?

    The concept of grit is gaining significant popularity. In an academic setting, grit was first defined by Angela Duckworth , who in 2013 won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Award for her work. She defined it as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals”.

    One of the things that Duckworth studied, along with Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, is what separates extraordinarily high achievers from people who are very talented and who, despite that talent, don’t seem to be finishing at the top of the pack. They determined that the secret sauce was grit. Among other things, grit predicts who will drop out of West Point and who will win the National Spelling Bee.

    What’s so compelling about Adams Miller’s work is that she builds on the research and highlights an important fact that grit can, in fact, be good or bad. She outlines a plan to focus on ‘authentic’ grit – a variant of grit that is positive and uplifting. And just as importantly, she provides a plan to help readers cultivate grit because, it turns out, grit isn’t something that we are necessarily born with, but something we can nurture over time.

    “To qualify for the label of authentic grit”, Adams Miller says, “it’s not enough to be resilient, persistent and passionate. I believe that gritty behavior is a positive force only when it awes and inspires others to want to become better people and imagine greater possibilities for themselves. People who display it make us wonder, “What if I went after hard things, too? What if I devoted energy and time to cultivating my passions? What if?”

    We’re talking here in a business context, but grit is everywhere. It’s the single mother who gets up two hours early to study to complete a degree, the father who works three jobs because he wants something better for his family. It’s opening yourself up to challenges that seem almost impossible and starting over as many times as it takes because you know the fight is worth the prize. It’s what gets you through the toughest times in your life, be that a divorce, a death or what you consider to be an epic failure.

    I had the honor of working with Adams Miller as my coach for several years and I asked her if grit can be learned. She was definitive that yes, it could.

    “It’s true,” she said, “that some people are born more optimistic than others. Some people are also born more resilient and some are born more or less impulsive. All of those things play into your ability to keep going, to have a “can do” spirit. But the other half of it is what you choose to think about and do every day.

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    Good Grit; Bad Grit

    This notion of authentic grit is important. If you think about it, grit alone isn’t always positive. There have been individuals, throughout history, who we could rightly describe as having grit but who wreaked terror. They were gritty but misguided. So Adams Miller goes deeper to help readers understand different forms of grit so you can identify when grit might be working in your favor and when it might be working against you.

    According to Adams Miller, people with Authentic Grit display specific characterisitics, including:

  • Positive relationships with others
  • High levels of hope
  • Humility
  • Self-confidence
  • Givers not takers
  • Appropriate focus on the goal (not to the exclusion of all else)
  • Stubbornness (of the sort that allows you to stay the course but not at all costs)
  • Ability to learn from failure
  • Authenticity, or being comfortable in their own skin
  • The Connection to Your Future

    At the root of of our work on Absolute Engagement is the notion that you need to be conscious and intentional about designing your life. This is a quality that Adams Miller sees as being related to grit. She points to research that shows that the majority of people are very reactive to life. She has this to say about the qualities we need to succeed. “In order to be a high achiever or a leader, you have to be awake at the wheel of life, which means being proactive. I’ve never coached anyone to elite performance who didn’t become somewhat proactive about how they approached their day.” Love it.