How Employees Succeed - Grit - Fresh Concepts Skip to main content

How Employees Succeed – Grit



Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is not just great reading for those who are interested in finding answers to the educational questions that plague our country, it’s fantastic reading for those who are curious about predicting employee success. In fact, I’d be thrilled if Tough’s next big project would focus on combining research from an array of disciplines (he consulted with economists, neuroscientists, psychologists, medical doctors for his most recent book) to address the logical next question – are the qualities he relates to children’s success similarly related to employees’ success?

How Gritty Are You?

Grit, in particular, is of interest to me. It’s an enchanting concept because it has both intuitive appeal (we can all define grit without the help of a psychology journal), and it is gaining a foothold in academia. A.L. Duckworth and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have created a 12-item grit assessment that you can take at

It would not be revolutionary to connect grit and business success. However, most businesses have struggled measuring the grit of their would-be employees. Unfortunately, Duckworth’s grit questionnaire can be fudged –it is based on an honest self-assessment and the instructions claim “there are no wrong answers.” But a savvy interviewee could quickly deduce the “best” responses if this type of paper and pencil test was included as a part of the interview process. Instead, well-thought out interview questions, aimed at assessing the candidates experience displaying grit, should be incorporated into structured interviews. “Tell us about a goal that took you years to complete,” is an example of such a query.

Job Seekers Need to Explain Their Grit

Possibly more important is how the interviewee views herself and explains her professional and educational background. An example from many years ago shows how grit can be incorporated the interview process – even if the organization is not specifically asking about it.  While interviewing an individual for a training and development position, the candidate explained her PhD in English as being a result of “stubbornness, more than anything.”

She had set out on a path and was not going to give up. She credited her determination (and grit) as the element that allowed her to complete her thesis – a feat many fall short of finishing. In many ways having a PhD was something of a strike against her since she was applying at an organization that valued masculinity and calloused hands over college degrees and book smarts. Ironically, it was her remarkable intellect that allowed her to reframe her qualifications in terms of grit – and that reframing won her many admirers, and the job.

Leaders Need to Tout Grit

Leaders need to encourage grittiness in subordinates by trumpeting the gritty behaviors that lead to organizational success. Stories exemplifying grittiness (the salesperson who made 30 separate visits before winning the client or the customer service representative who persisted until the difficult client was happy) will be more memorable and ultimately more potent when changing the behaviors of others. In a world where 10-day diets and 24-hour full-home makeovers are commonplace, it is helpful to have a reminder that success is rarely seen overnight.

Grit is not as glamorous, fun, or sexy as its quick-fix foil, but the results of grit are.

Previous Finding Your Path
Next Here’s to Saying Thank You from the Bottom-Up