How to Develop Lasting Grit

Studies show that the most important skill that kids will develop isn’t a language, or math, or even coding, but grit.  In an age of immediate satisfaction, instant gratification, and trophies just for showing up, the ability to persevere in the face of challenges turns out to be in short supply.  And it’s exactly what we need to solve problems, to break through barriers, to feel confident as leaders.  So, how does one develop grit?  Are some people just tougher than others?  Are some just born with it?

My kids go to a school that has a novel philosophy on grit.  While most schools drove headlong into the “kill them with wheelbarrows of homework” camp, positing that the determination and focus it takes to get through a post-midnight workload would build mental toughness, my kids’ school went in a different direction.  Rather than overloading them with work that they don’t enjoy, often to point of breaking their spirits (and certainly to the point of breaking their joy), the school encourages them to find the things they love and lets them muck around and fail and flail and improve.  Their theory is that it is not in the memorization of the Periodic Table or the solving of Fermat’s Enigma (what even is that, anyway?) where kids develop grit, but in the failing and rising and recalibration necessary in the intrinsic and dogged pursuit of perfection.

I started thinking about the hundreds of leaders I researched, recruited, and placed in my twenty years of executive search.  And I realized that perhaps we are going about it entirely wrong as adults, too.  The very best leaders — the most confident problem solvers and innovators — had grit in spades, the grit that they got by persevering when success was unclear, progress was unpredictable, when glory was uncertain.  It was their love to their cause, the solution, the goal that kept them going, even in the face of insurmountable challenges, and it was in that space that the long-suffering character trait of grit was bred inside of them.

So my challenge to you is this: pick something that you love, and level up your goal to make it harder than you think you can handle.  Challenge yourself to get up every day and do something about it, big or small.  It might take weeks, it might take months, it might take years for you to attain that goal.  But every single day between now and whatever you consider success, you will internalize lessons about yourself and your grit that will make you a confident leader.