I want to start this column with a clarification. You might wonder about the relevance of an editor’s column on success and how it’s germane to helping you operate an HVACR wholesale business.
The answer is simple. I’ve always regarded Distribution Center magazine as a business publication with the goal of helping its readers learn more about a wide range of topics to improve their company’s performance.
I suspect there is unanimity in the belief that if we become more successful in the workplace, employees and employers both benefit. (I’m leaving success outside the workplace for another column.)
We think about success whether we own the business or intend to advance in it. And by success in the workplace, I refer to the ability to meet our goals, whether they are money-, position- or people-related.
Many theories abound about how to achieve success, but in my humble opinion, the person closest to the mark is Angela Duckworth. I probably can’t begin to persuade anyone that she has something important to say unless I convince you that Duckworth has achieved a high plateau of success.
She attended Harvard as an undergraduate and worked as a high-flying consultant before she chucked her towering salary for the narrow slope of a teacher’s pay. She became a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship and earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she is now a professor and spends time trying to understand why some people succeed and others don’t.
Her book "Grit," is replete with examples and the elements of success, but it usually centers on a singular personality characteristic: grit. Those who succeed, stick with it, and those who don’t, give up. That’s obviously a simplistic explanation, but it is one that holds true across the spectrum of reasons for why some people reach goals while others drop out. What is critically important is that Duckworth maintains that grit is not some set-in-stone trait that you either have or don’t. High IQ doesn’t give you grit, nor does your race, background or education. And the best part of her thesis, if she’s right — and I believe she is — is that you can learn to be grittier. It’s not easy, and you might not be grittier across everything you do (which is fine), but you can improve your grit quotient.
Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, yeah, Tom — easy for her to say because she’s a professor at an Ivy League school, but I’m in the real world.”
Consider this starting point: Take the grit test in her book or visit angeladuckworth.com to learn how you match up. It has limitations, but it is relevant and worthy as a measurement for self-examination. Duckworth says you shouldn’t use her scale for hiring people. However, it might be helpful for employers to see how employees or managers view themselves, vis-à-vis grit, and whether those assessments are accurate.
One of the most important lessons that Duckworth teaches is the idea that you must engage yourself in one hard thing … all the time. It doesn’t mean that you can’t quit it, because you can. But then you must choose something else. I suppose (and Duckworth might be appalled at my example) it seems akin to the idea that you build character that way. The idea is that if that hard thing is worthy of effort, then it’s worthy of doing it as well as possible.
More importantly, the book is replete with a multitude of disparate examples of grit. But a common thread is that those who demonstrated grit had someone cheering them on and offering support. What if you pulled Joe, a warehouse worker, into the office because you believed he had potential and wanted to groom him for a future management position? He was smart and a hard worker in the warehouse, but now he needs to attend school and take a few accounting courses (it helps to be able to read a balance sheet). Joe is gutsy, but this is tough, and he doesn’t have the educational background or confidence to fall back on like he did in the warehouse.
This could be Joe’s grit test — if the job and the company are important enough to him. And it might be up to you to explain that, yes, it’s tough, but he needs to get through it if he wants to advance and have upward mobility. You might need to help. Two ways are hiring a tutor or allowing him an extra half-hour during lunch to review his accounting studies while he’s still reasonably fresh. I think you get the idea.
I’m going to take a leap and suggest that simply offering help or getting people to think about their grit level will increase it for them if they consider the ultimate goal valuable enough.
I’m only skimming over this fascinating issue and what it means for most of us. However, I strongly urge you to purchase a copy of "Grit." (http://amzn.to/28Z1dob).
I don’t mind revealing that I tried to get an interview with Prof. Duckworth for this magazine. Her public relations person turned me down, citing time constraints and an overwhelmingly busy schedule.
I was disappointed. I also put a reminder in my tickler reminder system to ask her again in a year. Nothing like demonstrating a bit of my grit.