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What is The Personality Trait Grit? The Science Behind the Buzz

Grit as a personality trait is defined as passionate persistenceT and is seen as a critical driver of cross-domain success, including in the workplace.

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

Why is grit the personality trait (or conscientiousness) so great?

Grit, or 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 grit or conscientiousness in your employees?

Although research has shown personality traits like grit/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 as a personality trait, 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. 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 the personality trait “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.