True grit is the great equalizer in life

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval reveal that the secret to success lies in showing grit

Carol Kinsey GomanLouis Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization, once said, “Let me tell you the secret that has led to achieving my goals: My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”

Pasteur would have approved of Grit to Great by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. According to the authors, individuals with grit – guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity – have a distinct advantage. GRITty people throw away their security blankets, learn to embrace uncertainty, and ultimately triumph over adversity and setbacks.

These women should know. Through their personal grit, Thaler and Koval grew a fledging start-up into a billion-dollar New York agency whose clients included Proctor & Gamble, Pifzer, Citi, and Aflac. Stories and examples of just how they achieved this are featured in Grit to Great. I highly recommend this insightful book because the basic principles – the ingredients of grit – are applicable to everyone. Here is a small sampling of those ingredients taken from the book and my comments on each:

Linda Kaplan Thaler/Robin Koval: It starts with guts. Grit begins with the courage to take on a tough challenge, and not falter in the face of adversity.

Carol Kinsey Goman: That reminds me of a television interview where Whoopie Goldberg described how she got her first one-woman show in New York: Goldberg was performing her nightclub act and (the director) Mike Nichols was in the audience. He came backstage and offered to create a show for her in a Broadway theater. Goldberg said she didn’t know if that was such a good idea. What if she were lousy? Nichols asked if she’d ever been lousy before and Goldberg said “Sure.” His response was, “Then it’s no big deal. You’ll just be lousy on Broadway.”

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Thaler/Koval: Resilience is what gives grit its elasticity. Studies show that people with a high degree of grit are able to stay focused and motivated, whatever failures, obstacles, and adversities get in their way.

Goman: When I interview business leaders, I notice that the most successful ones have an interesting attitude about failure. One project manager summed it up when he said, “If this venture fails, it will still be worth all the time and effort I’ve put into it for the past 18 months. Just look at everything I’ve learned.” Once, when I asked Suzy Monford, the CEO of Andronico’s, how she handled setbacks, she replied, “I don’t believe in setbacks. I try to fail quickly, learn from it, shake it off, and move forward.”

Thaler/Koval: Initiative – being a self-starter – is what makes grit dynamic, what sets it in motion.

Goman: I’ve learned that the most important part of goal setting is not stating the objective. It’s getting started, taking that first step toward achievement.

Research shows that’s true even when the process is all in your mind. In a University of California study, researchers had a group of students visualize doing well in an exam, and another group visualizing taking the necessary steps to reach the goal. The results were clear in favor of the group who visualized studying, reading and gaining required skills and knowledge. They not only did better, but spent longer preparing, focused more attention on the steps needed to reach the goal, and reduced anxiety in the process.

Thaler/Kaplan: Tenacity is the relentless ability to stay focused on a goal.

Goman: Success has often been compared to an iceberg. We see only the top of the iceberg, the achievement. We see the Nobel prize winner, the Olympic champion, the entrepreneur who became a billionaire. What we don’t see is the 90 per cent that is hidden beneath the surface. We don’t see the disappointments, the failures, the setbacks, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion, the hard-wired optimism, the tenacity, and the plain hard work that is the foundation of people’s success – whether they are scientists, athletes or business professionals.

And a final comment from these two amazing women:

Thaler/Kaplan: Grit is the great equalizer in life, because anyone, at any time, whatever their background or resources, can lay claim to it. With grit, there’s no telling how far you can go, how much you can do, or how successful you can be.

Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.

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