I first learned about grit when I completed my first classical guitar recital at age 12. I’ve played piano recitals in the past but this was my first guitar recital so there were plenty of butterflies in the stomach present but not overwhelming. I felt confident going into the performance but when I stepped on stage it became overwhelming when I saw the audience of about 50 people seem like it was 1,000. First note in to Greensleeves, my D string snapped and my face turned fire engine red with embarrassment. After what seemed like years sitting silently with my eyes as large as saucers, the judge said I could come back toward the end of the day to play again after re-stringing the guitar.
Come back? That’s the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to run away and never come back. That’s what I did. My teacher stopped me in the hall right before heading out and asked me where I was going. I told him that I wanted to go home because I was too embarrassed to show my face and I would just sign up for the next season’s recital. My teacher told me that if I didn’t go back up there today, it would become even harder in the future to overcome the internal challenge of putting it behind me. He was persistent and I ended up listening to him, headed back on stage 4 hours later, played my song and felt amazing. No blue ribbon at the end, just a sense of accomplishment.
I didn’t know it then but what my teacher taught me early on was grit. This let me learn from my failure, own it and bring confidence to get back up on stage and do it again. This same mentality helped me in college when I failed my first few freshman level tests and studied even more to pass the rest, my first sales job cold calling and getting hung up on in the recession to moving across the country multiple times overcoming self doubt while bringing two little girls into the world.
While grit is a significant predictor of success in different domains, the challenge is how you teach people to develop it. Whether it’s raising my girls or teaching my sales team, here are some of my theories:
Reward the Behavior, not the result.
Whether I’m talking to my oldest daughter about not giving up on dancing because she fell or sales person who just lost his largest forecasted account, if you wait until the end of the action to see what the result is, you lose a valuable teaching moment to influence the right behavior you’re looking to foster. In other words, if you are telling your sales folks to make sure they’re developing multiple relationships within an enterprise account and they’ve done that, recognize that as a leading indicator to a positive outcome. Waiting until the end of the process to review what went right or wrong in the deal focuses too much on the outcome and not the behavior. Risks should be promoted at the time of the risk taking, failure or success is a result.
Develop a gameful mindset.
This generation knows video games, they appreciate the challenge in them, the repetition and the constant progression they see when they move through a level. How many of us have banged our phone playing Angry Birds failing level after level only to continue to play until you succeed? I’m talking to you smashed screen guy.
People with gameful mindsets know that skills are developed through hard work and learning, and see failure as an inevitable result of trying new things. As a result, people with this mindset try new challenges, take good risks, and use effort as a path to mastering something. When something doesn’t go the intended way, ask if they know what went wrong to see if they can learn how to do it better the next time.
Talk about grit.
In order to foster a gameful mindset in others and for people to take risks in life, be mindful of what you talk about. What you talk about translates into what you value. What you value will dictate what your children, students and employees will follow. Share examples from your own life about times when you have been gritty. Emphasize that failure is going to happen during pursuit of tough, long-term goals and discuss what Plan B (or even Plan C) looks like.
The recipe for success is about much more than smarts. Grit is a powerful trait to cultivate in those you lead and teach and is worth focusing on as early as possible in your career and life.