The one trait you need to succeed

gritcover2Do you believe that you need talent to be successful?

You’re wrong.

You need Grit.

Grit” is a trait studied by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and the bestselling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Leaving a high-paying job in consulting, she began teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school where she realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. To learn more, she joined University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student and began studying people in different types of environments to find common factors that determine success.

“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.”

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Luckily, you don’t have to be born with grit. It can be developed. Studies of world class achievers show they develop grit in four stages:

Interest – This first stage happens when you start to fall in love with an activity and it becomes a passion that drives you to keep getting better at it. Therefore, you should avoid taking on roles or careers in fields that you are not in love with or at least heavily interested in. You must like what you do and be interested in becoming the best at it. Otherwise it will be impossible to become successful.

Practice – The second stage is a period of prolonged skill development and dedicated practice. This is the hardest part because it requires you to keep doing the same thing over and over and over. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve world-class mastery in a field. The Beatles would practice eight hours a day seven days a week and had played over 1,200 concerts before they shot to fame. Kobe Bryant, a world class athlete, would practice shooting from one spot until he made 400 baskets.

Same goes for nerds like Bill Gates. The Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates fed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computer and had racked up over 10,000 hours of programming experience before he founded Microsoft.

Beyond-the-self purpose –  A “beyond-the-self” sense of purpose gives you a much deeper motivation and can sustain you over a much longer period. This means that you should invest your emotions, your time and your energy into your passion because of reasons other than just being rich or becoming famous or even becoming the CEO of your company. Picking a career just to make money will rarely result in success. Seek a higher purpose, even if it is as simple as being the best at what you do.

Hope – Gritty people are resilient. They have a growth mindset, which provides them with the ability to bounce back and see each obstacle as a chance for improvement. When you lose hope, you fall into a fixed mind set of “things aren’t going to change.” As you look for more and more evidence that nothing is going to change, you’ll prove yourself right because you have stopped trying.

A growth mindset is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. When people read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.

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In the end, success comes down to perseverance. The deep desire to complete what you started. To follow through on your commitments. To keep going even if you fail the first time or the first few times. To keep pushing for your ideas even if they get rejected initially. To keep executing on those ideas though you’re up against a bunch of naysayers or road blockers.

Develop grit. That’s how you keep getting promoted. That’s how you get to the top.

Be a squeaky wheel…(with class)

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They say that the squeaky wheel gets greased. The message of this old idiom is that he who complains long enough will get what he wants.

In the context of an office environment, however, no one likes a complainer. At the office, complainer usually eats lunch alone. Or worst, he’s the first on the list of people to get the pink slips.

But that doesn’t mean that this old idiom should be ignored. There is some real wisdom in it. Said another way, it shows that  the most noticeable person is the one most likely to get the most attention. The key is in how someone is noticeable.

A corporate climber is someone who uses this idiom to her advantage. She communicates with her managers and other stakeholders. She asks questions often and seeks constant feedback.

When in a role, especially a new role or taking up a new project, it’s crucial that you demand (tactfully) of your superiors what is expected of you and maintain an ongoing communication with them with regards to issues you are running into.

Ask for feedback. Ask for counseling and coaching.

The quiet, new person who keeps to himself and whose work a manager has to correct is more likely to be shunned than the new person who constantly asks (smart) questions and stays on her radar.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

For example, once I had two new staff under me. One drove me absolutely fucking insane, question after question and second guessing everything, even my decisions. But as he worked he would keep me apprised of his situation and in the loop. He would seek help and clarification as soon as he encountered an obstacle or an issue. He made sure I reviewed his drafts and working files and that I helped him hone his deliverable to my expectations. In the end, his work was very good. It was always exactly what I wanted.

The other staff was quiet and solitary. I’d assign him a task, with an hourly deadline, and he’d go off on his own. No communication. I thought he had everything taken care of. Come deadline he had some half-assed work ready for me. I was not happy. Not only did he misinterpret my instructions and provided the wrong deliverable, I had to sit with him and spend hours helping him fix his mistakes. It felt like he just wanted someone to hand-hold him through the work. Eventually, I learned to rely on him less and to check up on him more frequently when I assigned him a task or project.

Moral is…make your own personal presence known among your bosses. Show you are active. Even if you are missing things and the numbers don’t add up, asking questions early and often avoids a lot of headache later. Being proactive  just shows that even though you need assistance, you are eager to learn and grow. Be the employee you would want if you owned the company.

Demand feedback.

Leaders & Leadership | thoughts from GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt

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The General Electric company is consistently recognized as an excellent breeding ground for future business leaders. So much so, that many of the current Fortune 500 leaders today rotated through GE doors before they became CEO. Jim McNerney, Chairman & CEO of Boeing, came from GE. Bob Nardelli, ex-CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler as well. So did David Cote, CEO of Honeywell. The list goes on.

The only other institution with such a reputation is Harvard.

“Firms led by CEOs who were trained at GE will outperform firms led by CEOs who were not; GE’s reputation for developing CEO talent is, in fact, well deserved and not mere hype; and GE appears to develop more CEO talent than other noted CEO talent-generating firms.” – Ivey Business Journal

So when GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt shares his thoughts on leadership and the evolving role of leaders, the Korporate Klimber pays attention.

Here’s what Jeff wrote recently |

[Recently], Aon Hewitt named GE the #1 company for developing leaders. They are an HR consulting company, so their designation means a lot. GE always ranks near the top of the list, but it is nice to be #1. A few days earlier, the Hay Group, another HR consulting firm, named GE #2 on its list of best companies for leadership.

The ratings are based on: practices and culture; global development; business and leadership strategy; reputation; and financial performance. GE tends to do well across all of the categories … that is one of our strengths.

One of the reasons GE has endured as a respected company is our commitment to leadership. However, I have always believed that “leadership has no shelf life.” In other words, as times change, techniques and emphasis must change as well. In our volatile world, leadership must adapt.

Great leaders embrace change. You, as an aspiring leader, should never accept the status quo or the phrase “Well, this is how it’s always been done.” People who say that will never become leaders. Change in inevitable. Success requires us to not only embrace the idea of change, but also that one become an agent for change.

Jeff goes on to say |

So let’s start with the elements of leadership that stand the test of time: a commitment to performance, a foundation of integrity and a desire to learn. These have been traits of good GE leaders for more than 100 years. They will – they must – never change. And, we stand by these foundations in good times and bad.

Pay attention. This is important.

Commitment to performance – You’ve got to work hard. There’s no way around it. No shortcuts. No “hacks”. But notice that he says “commitment to performance” not commitment to hard work. This means that it’s the end result i.e. the quality of the product you deliver that determines the quality of your performance. And as we all know, every high quality product requires hard work and attention to detail.

Foundation of integrity – Success without integrity will not last. Just look at Elliot Spitzer. He was the best attorney general that New York state ever had. He became governor. He was going to be the next president of the United States. Then, he gets caught for hiring prostitutes. This guy, who was the poster child for upholding the law, does something illegal. He lost his integrity. He lost the trust of those who put him up on a pedestal.

If success is built on relationships, and if relationships require trust, then how can one be successful without integrity?

Do the right thing. Always.

Desire to learn – The world is changing and so are the requirements of the workplace. Many of the skills that were important to succeed at a job just a decade ago are obsolete today. Adapt or become irrelevant. Learning and knowing new things, keeps you relevant.

No one likes stale potato chips. Keep yourself fresh. Never stop learning.

Here’s Jeff again |

But leadership must evolve with the times. Let me describe three aspects of leadership that are vastly different today than when I was growing up in the company.

Today, leaders must be deep first and broad second. The emphasis on a “general leader” is declining. Domain matters. Our best leaders have great instincts for markets, customers, data. General leaders can do ok for 2 or 3 years. Domain leaders build ideas that last.

Today, leaders must be risk managers not control freaks. I grew up in a controls-based company. But, the environment was easier. Good leaders today manage the 3-4 things that really count; they know how to prioritize.

Today, purpose is more important than process. In the past, we were more of a process-oriented company. Doing things the right way is still important today. However, in this slow-growth world, outcomes for our customers matter most. Leaders must have a passion for winning.

Passion for winning! You’ve already got that. That’s why you’re reading this blog and this article. Otherwise you’d be going through slides of top 10 twerkers in Romania or something.

Now all you need to do is develop the other skills.

Keep Klimbing.