More Grits, Please!

As the title may suggest, my request for 'grits' is not referencing the porridge made from boiled cornmeal. The grits I am interested in are leaders and Board Directors with resilience and the ability to calmly and systematically overcome adversity - a trait that is not only extremely important for successful leaders, but is becoming harder to find.

The Growing Importance of Resilience in Next-Gen Directors

Grit: Firmness of character; indomitable spirit. Exhibiting persistence, tenacity, backbone, fortitude, and self-sufficiency. Can also mean perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

In a world where just about anything can be delivered to your doorstep with a few clicks on a website, we have been conditioned with the belief that instant gratification and immediate satisfaction is the norm - and should be expected. Nothing should take weeks, months, or years to accomplish anymore! Sadly, this is not the case for many important aspects or our personal and professional lives where reaching certain goals takes perseverance and constant attention. Those who are able to stick with it for the long haul, or occasionally choose the bumpier path to ensure something more meaningful, are becoming more elusive.

...But with the importance of successful leadership so firmly dependent on a leader's grit, shouldn't we be more actively striving to understand it and attempting to measure this important trait - especially prior to the appointment of a C-level leader or Board Director?

Angela Duckworth, author of the best-selling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and speaker at one of the most viewed TED talks of all time, is recognized as the world leader on the topic of grit. In her writings, she defines the characteristics of grit - some measurable, some that defy measurement. Duckworth herself honestly states in her writing that the true essence of grit remains elusive and can have hundreds of interrelationships, but can nevertheless be classified in four categories. In a simplified summary, her 'grit list' includes:

  1. Interest: passionate about what you do;
  2. Practice: continually focusing on improvement - no matter what;
  3. Purpose: believing strongly that your work matters to you and to others;
  4. Hope: believing that you can work things out and overcome your challenges.

Defining grit is one thing. Measuring grit is another... Fortunately, there is indeed a way to measure it.

In addition to the important traits of IQ, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), and MQ (Mindfulness Intelligence), there also exists AQ, a.k.a. Adversity Intelligence or Adversity Quotient - the ability to measure grit. The term AQ, a score that measures the ability of a person to deal with adversities in his or her life, was coined by Paul Stoltz in his book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities. To quantify AQ, Stoltz developed an assessment method called the Adversity Response Profile (ARP) that assesses four dimensions of AQ: control, ownership, reach, and endurance (see an ARP example here). Employers are using AQ to predict employees’ levels of success, stress threshold, performance, risk-taking, capacity for change, productivity, energy, perseverance, improvement, and even health. Especially when making important leadership decisions, these evaluation criteria can become paramount in ensuring successful appointments.

Even with societal changes further conditioning for immediate gratification, Board Directors face an increasing call to exhibit their grit, not just during instances where it is required, but also prior to situations that call for it. As a Board Candidate, be aware that modern robust interview processes now include probing behavioral predisposition questions, potentially including quantitative assessments, to evaluate your AQ (a main reason I include this topic in my 'Becoming an Exceptional Board Director Candidate' Coaching Course). As a seated Board Member, support your Nominating Committees' quest to appoint fellow leaders with true resilience and the ability to calmly and systematically overcome adversity. Through continuous improvement and ongoing learning, strive to increase your own AQ, as well. I can state unequivocally when evaluating the numerous Boards I have consulted and advised during the pandemic, the ones that had grit were truly impactful during these times.

Is it possible that the catchphrase "kiss my grits!," as the character Flo frequently uttered in the 1970s sitcom Alice, actually meant that she was grateful and wanted to show affection for the gritty people in her life? Definitely not, but if a show revival is in the works, maybe it should be.

Is your Board made up of gritty individuals?


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Mark A. Pfister is a Non-Executive Director | CEO | Chief Board Consultant | Corporate Strategist | Board Macro-Influencer | Speaker | Author