Six Ways Leaders Can Develop Grit

I recently worked with a leader who had strong technical skills but kept getting stuck on one specific procedure that he performed daily. He possessed all the background needed to master his challenging tasks but repeatedly became overwhelmed when he reached a certain point. He threw his hands up when we spoke:

“I just can’t figure out how to get over this hurdle. I need to learn this step but I have a block. Why can’t someone else just do it?”

As I listened to his frustrations I kept thinking about all his knowledge and abilities. They were all there. What was preventing him from being successful? What was holding him back? He lacked grit.

In her eye-opening book, “Grit”, Angela Duckworth explores how people can push themselves forward when they are having trouble reaching their goals. She explains the importance of having passion in what we pursue and then having the ability to stay focused and dig deeper to empower us towards success. Duckworth shares her definition of grit:

“Grit isn’t just working incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out real hard problems, it all takes time-longer than most people imagine. Then you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people.”

Here are six ways leaders can develop grit:


To become grittier, leaders first must look inwards and identify what is important to their well-being and professional development. Here are some questions leaders can ask themselves to clarify their values:


Once leaders recognize the values that drive them, they need to seek out work situations that align. For example: if you prefer to work in a team atmosphere, make sure that you are seeking work environments that value teamwork. On the other hand, if you naturally like to work independently, choose projects or companies that encourage alone time. When we want to build our grit, we need to find professional situations that allow us to be true to our values because then we can be more authentic.


So here is the thing about growing our grit- we need to work hard at it. What does that mean? Although we may be in a great company or job or career, we still need to be our best and strive towards excellence. That could mean spending more time on a skill we aren’t as strong or developing our strengths to a higher level.


Part of being gritty, is also letting no stone go unturned. That means making sure we lead with detail and understanding. We need to ask tons of questions, perform an abundance of research and try not to jump to any premature conclusions. A leader with grit is open to honest feedback and guidance.


Angela Duckworth talks a great deal about the need for people to keep practicing their skills until they are at their best. Just think of great athletes or brilliant inventors, their innate talent got them only so far but their continuous practice led them to greatness.


When leaders know who they are, where they are going and have worked hard to master their craft, it is important to share their accomplishments.

  • Become a mentor to someone on your team
  • Teach a course to share what you have discovered
  • Be on a panel and part of an on-going discussion in your field

How can you become a grittier leader?

(Image Credit: Flickr CC-perzon seo)

8 thoughts on “Six Ways Leaders Can Develop Grit

  1. LOVED this article, Terri! Grit is an essential component of mental toughness and I like the way Angela Duckworth emphasizes the need for hard work. There are just no shortcuts on the path to success!

  2. I agree that grit is so important to being mentally tough.Angela Duckworth’s research showed that successful leaders had more than strong skills and talent. It really took working hard and delving deep into a particular field that set apart highly accomplished leaders from good leaders. So fascinating.

    Thanks LaRae for sharing your insights!

  3. Love where you ended this piece – share the wealth. The leaders I’ve worked for and with who had true grit and were willing to share their experience made a huge difference to me in my career. I saw echoes of people I know in your story too. It’s tempting to wish that someone else would step up and do it for us but at some point, we need to dig deep and find our grit.

    Will share!


  4. Part of grit is leading with all the deep knowledge we have mastered and learned. When we mentor others or collaborate with team members we are ultimately being our grittiest. It is definitely easier to give up or have others pick up the slack but we grow our leadership when we stay focused and work hard.

    Thanks Alli! As always I appreciate your great additions!

  5. I like and respect your six guidelines for leaders as I believe they have tremendous values for anyone in a leadership position. However, that said, my problem is with grit. I’ve known some leaders who not only have grit, but their grit is grating, like sandpaper. They rub against the grain and I find them very irritating. I wish we had a better word for grit. I know the positive meaning too and if that works for some people, OK. It’s just not my preference.
    Staying focused, passion and digging deeper do not have to be gritty experiences. It’s my simple argument with a word choice that I think is a bit misguided and misinformed in today’s market. Want to see staying focused, hard work and highly skilled people? Watch Wimbledon this week.

  6. Yes the tennis players who make it to Wimbledon are leaders with grit. They might have developed strong tennis skills but in order for them to have gotten this far they needed to delve deep and challenge their abilities even further. If you get a chance to read Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit”, you will see how critical it is to commit to a passion and not just rely on talent. It’s fascinating.

    Thanks Gary for stopping by and sharing your perspectives!

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