During my business career I was involved in the hiring of many employees, from sales representatives to CFOs and COOs. A search firm would normally ask what qualities I was seeking in a candidate, expecting a detailed list of job skills. My response was always the same: brains, energy, enthusiasm and aptitude. I hired many sales reps, for example, with no sales experience but with lots of aptitude.
As I look back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I missed the most important skill, grit: determination, willpower, fortitude, tenacity – all are synonyms. One of my favorites is the German word, sitzfleisch – the power to endure or persevere; staying power.
Years ago I hired two young men as sales representatives in the publishing business, both Phi Beta Kappa graduates of excellent midwestern colleges. One became president of two divisions of the company, the other was gone within a year. Both were clearly very smart but only one had grit. An indication of this is that he had served in the Peace Corps for two years as a math teacher in Africa. That has to take a good deal of grit. I never hired an Eagle Scout who wasn’t successful.
It takes grit to start and stick with a program of exercise and healthy eating. When some individuals mention that they are going to start exercising and lose weight, I know that it’s not a question of whether they’ll do it. It’s just a matter or how long it will take them to reach their first set of goals. I’ve seen them apply their grit in prior situations.
Do many individuals have high talent and high grit? No, based upon research I’ve read. Many high-talent individuals never encounter failure, hence they don’t develop grit. As a friend said once about a person we met who had lots of inherited wealth: “He’s someone who’s never known fear.”
I love this quote from Will Smith, the successful actor and musician: “The only thing this I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things – you got it on me in nine categories. But if we got on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”