Grit: The Science Behind the Buzz

For the past decade, Angela Duckworth has championed “Grit” (defined as passionate persistence) as a critical driver of cross-domain success, including in the workplace.

When researchers started to dig into what made “grit” so powerful, though, they found that it is basically just a rebrand of an already well-known product – conscientiousness.

Why is conscientiousness so great?

Conscientiousness is a personality trait that has long been widely known to predict academic and workplace success. People higher in conscientiousness are, in a word, organized. They make plans, and then they follow through on them. They persist, which is valuable in individuals who have other success-predicting traits such as, intelligence (still one of the largest predictors of success). Persistence without the skillset or game-plan to succeed would actually be detrimental. Similarly, research finds conscientiousness can actually hinder performance in more stressful or dynamic settings, where adaption is more valuable than persistence.

How do you develop conscientiousness in your employees?

Although research has shown personality traits like conscientiousness are primarily genetic in origin, the behaviors it inspires (e.g., persistence) can be learned. People born more conscientious may have a head start, but the rest of us can get there with practice.

Before “grit” burst on the scene, psychologists had long recognized that success often involves navigating the gap between what we cannot do yet, but what we might achieve with practice. Failure is daunting, and it is easy to decide that when we fail we will always fail, and so we should just give up. But when we have a growth mindset, we can understand failure as just one step on the path to success. (This is where that persistence can pay off!)

Maintaining expectations of success is the critical motivational factor at play, and where our mindset and the people around us play an important role. Positive feedback from others builds expectations of success, and social support softens the blow of a setback. Leaders who maintain a positive attitude even when delivering negative feedback can keep their employees motivated and boost future performance.

So, what’s the takeaway?

  • For Hiring Managers:
    • Whether you want to call it “grit”, or just old fashioned “conscientiousness”, this key personality trait is something you should be looking for in a potential employee. Cangrade’s pre-hiring assessment will tell you who has it, and who doesn’t.
  • For Supervisors:
    • If you want your employees to persist, even after a setback, you can help. Don’t set them up for failure by giving them more than they can handle, and when they do face a setback, focus on the positive elements to encourage further effort. When our confidence falters, the people around us can be the difference between persistence and despair.

  2 comments

  1. Avatar Joe   •  

    “Grit” is not ‘passionate resistance’. It is a tough word to define I’ll give that to you, but obviously you’ve never seen the movie “True Grit” with John Wayne. Now THAT defines grit.

    • Avatar Cassie Jackson   •  

      @Joe – just a heads up, Dr. Chris mentions “passionate persistence”, not resistance! Persistence and grit are definitely in the same wheelhouse – resistance, not so much.

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