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Sorry! Talent alone is not enough, you need grit at work

By Lillian Ngala | Apr 12th 2021 | 4 min read
By Lillian Ngala | April 12th 2021

Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” argues that talent alone is not enough for success. She says a person also needs to have grit – a mental toughness that helps you persevere even in the face of obstacles.

So what exactly is grit? It is passion and perseverance. It is having a firmness of character and an indomitable spirit. It is setting goals and following through despite obstacles, setbacks and in spite the urge to give up.

No doubt, you will certainly be weak sometimes and you might lose focus on your goal for a day or even two, or a week. But grit will always bring you back on track and redirect your eyes to the prize - especially in career advancement.

What you need to succeed in your career

You need many different qualities to succeed in any given career. Intelligence and work ethic may help get you noticed at work and earn a promotion. However, grit is one of the best indicators of long-term success and could be what truly separates success from failure throughout one’s career.

What if you have talent? Is grit that important when you are the best at what you do? Remember talent is available. If you quit your job, in a couple of days, your organization will get someone like you or even better. The differentiator is grit. It is what turns your talent into goodwill and keeps you top of mind of managers who will influence your career trajectory.

Let’s take two people – James and John who join an organization on the same day with the same qualification and similar skills. Maybe even under the same department or at the same job level. More often than not, grit is what will determine who will be promoted first.

If John has grit, it will be seen in their output, initiatives for self-improvement and consistency in providing solutions. That is why we know of people who showed so much promise when they started out but are yet to hit their peak. We also know of others who looked ordinary but ended up surprising us all. Their hard work and persistence over time produced incredible results and launched their career progression.

How to develop and sustain grit

You first start by defining exactly what it means for you. Do you want to improve your output at work? Are you looking to bag your Master's degree or learn a new skill in your free time? Write your goal down and purpose in your heart to go for it with all you got.

Attach value to your goal. Something like getting a promotion or improving your chances of getting a better job if you stick to your course. This will keep you focused despite the pain and sacrifices you have to make.

Second, you need to chase small, tangible wins and celebrate them. Often we think that grit is all about moving mountains and extreme struggling. Well, it could be, but that is not all. Like a muscle, you need to exercise it until it grows. Choose to scale one step at a time so that you can prove to yourself that you can do it. Then keep improving - an additional step every time – until you come out on top.

Third, don’t depend on external motivation. Be your own cheerleader. When you celebrate your small wins, you pump yourselves up for bigger challenges that will come your way. You feel confident and take things on. This is in contrast to people who have to look for inspiration from friends, family, mentors and others. When they don’t get it, they lose their moment and all their energy fizzles out.

Courage is part of grit

Fourth is courage. The courage to knock doors, to apply for bigger roles, to give your input during meetings. Courage to dust yourself when you fall and have another go after failure.

Fifth ingredient of grit is resilience. Resilient people tend to have a strong moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered. They don’t compare themselves with others, knowing instead that they are their own yardstick of success. They also see difficulties as stepping stones to transformation. They cultivate self-awareness and practice mindfulness. They surrender themselves to life’s ups and downs and adjust their attitudes and goals according to the size of the wave they are currently riding.

As a bonus, you also need to have patience and optimism to keep you focused when you feel like letting go and settling for average. Or when it looks easier to make sideway moves – from one company to another for the same job title – instead of exercising patience and having your eyes on the prize believing that tomorrow will always be better.

If you are wondering what you need to improve your career prospects, get some grit!

Lillian Ngala is the Head Human Resources at Diamond Trust Bank Ltd and also the council member at the Institute of Human Resource Management.

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