Brokerage Ops the October 2015 issue

Let’s Talk Dirty

The dirty little secret great business leaders already know.
By Elizabeth McDaid Posted on September 24, 2015

Yes, I’m going to go there. I’m going to talk about…grit.

Now, wait. What did you think I was talking about? Oh, get your mind out of the gutter!

Grit is the hot new buzzword. But it’s not the kind that Mr. Clean can help you with. I’m talking about the personality trait defined as persistence over time to overcome life’s challenges and accomplish great goals.

Grit is also referred to as a guiding or grounding principle of great leaders. Passion, perseverance and stamina are words frequently associated with grit. Grit helps keep you grounded and allows you to keep both your successes and failures in balance. Grit is about doing whatever it takes to get the job done, and these days it’s seen by many as a true differentiator.

You can’t talk about grit without talking about Angela Duckworth, who studies grit at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth says those with grit approach goals and achievements “not as a sprint but as a marathon.” While there are those who define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, Duckworth believes gritty people demonstrate zeal and persistence. The combination of those two traits is what truly sets them apart. They don’t need immediate positive feedback. They stay the course and overcome obstacles as a result of their passion and commitment to the long-term goal. 

Intrigued by the topic, I searched Amazon for books with grit in the title. I stopped counting at 35 (and that doesn’t include Southern cookbooks). Apparently there’s a lot to say about grit.

I just finished reading From Grit to Great, a new book on grit that sets itself apart from the others. First, it’s written for busy business people who don’t have time to wade through a lot to get to the important stuff. It is intentionally that way. Second, it is filled with actionable tips to enhance your grittiness.

That’s the great news—you can improve your grittiness.

Authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval talk about grit as a trait that can be developed. They count four necessary ingredients in grit:

  • GUTS is the willingness to take calculated risks. That’s nothing new for us in the insurance industry. (Actually, Linda and Robin are no strangers to the industry. Their agency created the Aflac duck.) Guts allows you to go out on a limb. Guts gives gritty people confidence.
  • RESILIENCE is the ability to stay focused despite all odds. It’s what puts you back in the saddle after you’ve been thrown for a loop. As we learned from Patel in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end.” Resilience gives grit elasticity.
  • INITIATIVE makes grit dynamic. Taking initiative means being proactive, being able to think on your feet and not being afraid to be the first one to move forward with something. Initiative is the self-starter component that puts grit in motion. This follows Eleanor Roosevelt’s wonderful advice: “Do something that frightens you every day!” Initiative enables gritty people to get things done.
  • TENACITY is the ability to stay focused on the goal. Thaler and Koval say tenacity is “the most recognizable trait associated with grit.” It is in short supply in our digital age. Aren’t there some things worth working for? Tenacity gives grit focus.

From Grit to Great is filled with anecdotes about people—some you know, some you don’t. They have used their grit to overcome any number of challenges, from career setbacks to mental illness. The stories are intended to illustrate and to inspire. With grit, things don’t happen all at once, they happen one small step at a time. They build to a successful conclusion. Grit helps people take the next step.

“We like that it’s something everyone possesses and can grow,” Robin told me. That’s encouraging, because Thaler and Koval say grit is precisely what this “too soft” nation needs. In their book they refer to grit as a “throwback term from prior centuries” that “embodies what made America great. It’s about sweat, not swagger; character, not charisma. Girt is methodical stick-to-itiveness.” (Think John Wayne in True Grit.)

Each chapter concludes with “Grit Builders,” ideas and suggestions for ways to enhance and build upon your own grit.

One of my favorites is “Go the Extra 30 Minutes,” which recommends devoting 30 minutes a day to something you want to accomplish. Hey, it worked for mega-thriller author James Patterson, who rose early each morning to work on his novel while still running an ad agency.

The “Say No to Not Yet” grit builder challenges you to start moving on a plan today. There never is the right time. The stars never align perfectly. For example, why don’t you register for that Council Leadership Academy program you’ve wanted to take? There will never be “the right time.” (Just sayin’.)

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor, says the secret to his success is not that he is the smartest person in the room but that he’s willing to outwork his competitors. “Talent,” says the best-selling author Stephen King, “is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

If you are beginning the second act of your career, perhaps reinventing yourself, grit will be an important part of your toolkit. If you feel you’re in a rut and need a jumpstart to regain your enthusiasm, grit can help.

“What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Stephen King

All this reading about grit made me wonder. Just how gritty am I? I’m a kid from Brooklyn, after all. So I took the Grit to Great quiz and found I’m a Grit Master! Not a Superstar, but not an Apprentice either. Got the guts to take the quiz? Visit It takes only a few minutes. Email me with your results.

So if this dirty talk has gotten you all worked up, why don’t you take Grit to Great to bed with you tonight. It’s filled with gritty stories about perseverance that are bound to get you excited. What? There you go again. Sorry, there are no pictures.

Elizabeth McDaid SVP, Leadership & Management Resources, The Council Read More

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