Grit, Determination and the Courage to Fail

Growth_of_a_Leader-1966_RockwellAs I was receiving feedback on my recent article about servant leadership in the 21st century (Click Here), I was reminded of a recent Forbes article on “5 Characteristics of Grit – How Many Do You Have?

The article sums up the growing opinion that today’s youth lack “grit” or that determination to persevere and accomplish long-term goals.  In short, “if it ain’t an easy win, why bother?” (Or, conversely, if there’s strong chance of failure, despite the benefits of attempting the goal, why bother?)

Grit, or that firmness of character which enables us to stick with a project or relationship through thick & thin, heat & cold, ups & downs is a key to exceptional performance in life.

It isn’t developed by a schooling system that “teaches to the test” (i.e. equips the student to rote-ly repeat basic facts and principles to ace the test, but lacks the depth of understanding to connect the dots from A to Z.)  This was my concern about pinnacle awards (i.e. Eagle Scout, Gold Award, — Click Here) becoming about completing a checklist instead of growing and maturing through the process.

Life is about the journey, not merely the destination.

klondike 2011

The five characteristics of “Grit” mentioned in the article included:

  1. Courage – gritty people are not afraid to fail in the quest for big wins.  Failure is learning, not crushing defeat.  “Teddy Roosevelt, a Grand Sire of Grit, spoke about the importance of overcoming fear and managing vulnerability in an address he made at the Sorbonne in 1907. He stated:   ‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.’”  Further, Ms. Perlis, the author of the Forbes article stated “…courage is like a muscle; it has to be exercised daily. If you do, it will grow; ignored, it will atrophy.  Courage helps fuel grit; the two are symbiotic, feeding into and off of each other…and you need to manage each and how they are functioning together.”  Brilliant!
  2. Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable – dependable people are good to have on teams because they get things done, but only what’s put in front of them or specifically assigned to them (in general).  Achievers are more likely to seek out the next project and the next step actively.  They’re searchers and instigators never settling for status quo.  Both care about results, but one settles for completion, the other itches to keep moving.
  3. Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through – Long term goals “provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina…grit.”  Floating from one short term project to another isn’t bad, but it doesn’t aggregate or compound skills and experience as quickly/effectively as taking on huge projects and managing the complex, interwoven details across multiple departments to get to the final result (which is often more projects spun out of the central, multi-year effort).
  4. Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity – connected to our earlier mention of not being afraid of failure or setbacks, resilience is that springy-ness of character that enables you to bounce back to your feet quickly and keep moving.  Some people need a lot of time to get up, get dusted off and get back on track, but those who learn to spring back fast seem to be the ones at the front of the leadership pack.  Resilience could also be viewed as the “energy reserve” or “drive” people build up to maintain enthusiasm over the long-haul when others fade or need longer “breaks” to restore their vigor.
  5. Excellence vs. Perfection – According to the author, “In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. It may seem that these two have only subtle semantic distinctions; but in fact they are quite at odds. Perfection is excellence’s somewhat pernicious cousin. It is pedantic, binary, unforgiving and inflexible… Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue.”  In my own experience with “corporate America” and in small business operations, I’ve seen the difference between perfection (a paper chase that’s never really fulfilled) and excellence (it works, it works well, customers are pleased, further optimization would come at a cost higher than the return justifies).  Gritty people want excellence so they can move on and make a similar impact in other areas, too.

So what do you think?  Are our outdoor adventure programs building “Gritty” young people who like big challenges, or do we too easily reward for trivial accomplishments that discourages “true grit”?  How big are the goals your patrols/teams facing?  Do we as leaders push them off of their comfort zone often enough to challenge them without needlessly frustrating them?  Or do we like to settle in for a cup of coffee while the kids play out of earshot?  It’s our responsibility to guide these young men and women to become the best they can be.  The question often becomes, how do we do that?

Try to up the grit factor in your program this year.  Your youth leaders will benefit from becoming grittier as they go.

Lancers Patrol


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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