The One Key to Success? Grit.

April 15, 2015 By Dave Chase

Success – there are many theories about what ultimately leads to success and many of them are enormously helpful. I know I’m not unique in my belief that as I study and learn about leadership and success, I grow and become a better leader.   Recently however, I listened to a fascinating TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth that resonated with me and which isn’t a competing theory, but rather, a multiplier of other qualities leading to success.

Andrea, a former educator and now psychologist, studied keys to success. She studied cadets at West Point Military Academy, children engaged in the National Spelling Bee process, school teachers in really tough neighborhoods, and sales personnel in private companies. As she says:

‘in all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.’

However, she stopped short in identifying where an individual develops grit.

Is grittiness developed at all? I believe so. I vividly recall an experience early in my life that set me down the grittiness path. As a young boy of about 10, I was assisting the clearing a new garden spot at my home and working alongside my father, but obviously not pulling my weight. When dinner was called, he asked me to remain behind until I was able to pry out and haul off a particularly large stone before coming in to dinner. It was a seminal experience for me that taught me how much I valued grittiness.


Though I fussed, complained, and whined, I finally buckled down and got to work. It ultimately took muscle and leverage to get this large rock into the wheelbarrow and hauled off. But this, among similar later experiences with my farmer father, taught me to work until the job is done and even when one method or another fails, another will work. Initial failure to lift the rock into the wheelbarrow didn’t define me, but gave me another opportunity to try something else. The value from the experience came in teaching me grittiness despite initial failure.

It was this learning experience that demonstrated what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has called having a “growth mindset.” This construct defines how the gritty among us keep striving. It is the idea that failure isn’t central to an individual or a permanent condition. Failure is situational and temporary. Those with a growth mindset may internalize and learn from failure, but they aren’t crippled by it. They simply keep at it. That is the essence of grit. And grit is a multiplier characteristic. That is, it magnifies other leadership qualities we may possess. As we exhibit other leadership qualities, we may yet fail, but the key is to never give up.

For those interested in her deeper story, National Geographic profiled Angela and her process of discovering grit as the key to success.

David Chase, Managing Partner at Advanced CFO Solutions, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With 15 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $450 million.

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