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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Trait That Ups Your Chances of Getting Hired, Promoted, and Ahead

Is there one personal quality that makes you more likely to found a successful business? Yes, according to Paul G. Stoltz, PhD.

He’s been researching success for more than 35 years, and he surveyed and evaluated thousands of entrepreneurs and executives. By an overwhelming margin, he says, one personality trait makes the difference between success and failure: toughness, or grit. “Grit is tremendously predictive of entrepreneurial success,” he says. “It determines both the magnitude of goals one sets and the likelihood of completing them.”

Grit also increases your odds of getting promotions and job offers. In one study, Stoltz asked corporate executives, “If you were hiring someone and had to choose between a person with perfect skills but weak grit and a person with exceptional grit but missing some skills, which would you pick?” The vast majority picked the second option. Not only that, in a follow-up question, they said they would willingly trade eight or more normal employees for a single person with highly developed grit.

If that weren’t enough, consider that grit (or the lack of it) also affects your life outside the workplace. “It partly determines your quality of life, health, and your ability to make things happen,” Stoltz says.

But not all grit is created equal, explains Stoltz in his new book GRIT: The New Science of What it Takes to Persevere, Flourish, Succeed. In it, Stoltz uses GRIT as an acronym for growth, resilience, instinct, and tenacity, the four elements that make up what he calls Grit 2.0.

The good news is that anyone can develop all four of these qualities and bring them into play when you most need them. The next time you’re up against a situation in your workplace or business that exhausts your resources, strains you emotionally and physically, and generally tests your stick-to-itiveness, ask yourself and your team the following questions:

1. What fresh ideas or perspectives could we seek to increase our chances or speed of success?

This question is designed to encourage growth, Stoltz explains. Growth is your ability to pull your head out of the weeds and look for new viewpoints or approaches. This is a path to what he calls “smart grit”—the ability to go at an intractable problem in a new and more effective way.

2. How can we respond better and faster to the obstacle we’re currently facing?

This question is designed to increase your resilience, Stoltz explains. “Resilience is your ability to respond constructively to adversity—and make good use of it.”

3. If we were to change our goal and approach to increase our chances and speed of success, how would we do that?

This question is designed to develop your instinct, Stoltz says. Instinct might seem like a hard-to-define quality that you either have or don’t. But Stoltz defines instinct as your intuitive tendency to go after the right goal in the right way. If you ask yourself how you could do things better, “almost always there are answers to that,” Stoltz says.

The question forces you to step back and take a bigger look, like a climber re-assessing the route up a rockface, he says. “Is this the right goal, and what would be a better goal? Maybe it’s not 15% market share. Maybe it’s 15% of a specific part of the market.”

4. If we were to give this effort another significant burst of energy, where would we best invest that energy?

“That’s a great question to ask when people are worn out and they have nothing left,” Stoltz says. It’s designed to improve your tenacity—the dig-in, never-say-die persistence that can help keep a company or project alive long after someone else would have given up.

Stoltz notes that during his research, when he asked whether getting things accomplished is getting harder or easier over time, 98% said it’s getting harder. “It’s the mass complexification of everything,” he says. Sounds like a little extra tenacity would be a good thing for us all.

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