Yesterday I wrote about grit, the trait of being able to maintain focus on and passion for long term goals even when things get tough. Grit has nothing to do with IQ. I think we are better off crafting work that ordinary, gritty people can excel at than to search for extraordinarily smart and talented folks. I’d much rather have a team of gritty folks that work well together and learn from their mistakes than a collection of prima-donna superstars that are too smart to learn anything new.
Carol Dweck’s work on self-theories I think supports the notion that we should encourage grit over intelligence. I learned about Dweck’s research in Pfeffer and Sutton’s book Hard Facts and in this article at Bob Sutton’s website.
Some people have a fixed theory, believing that their qualities, such as their intelligence, are simply fixed traits. Others have a malleable theory, believing that their most basic qualities can be developed through their efforts and education. Research shows that people with a malleable theory are more open to learning, willing to confront challenges, able to stick to difficult tasks, and capable of bouncing back from failures (Dweck, 2008).
Her research also shows that if people are praised for their intelligence, they are more likely to develop a fixed theory. This kind of praise can make them more challenge avoidant, and when they face especially tough difficulties their confidence, satisfaction, and performance may decline. But when people are praised for their effort, they are more likely to take on a malleable theory. This results in eagerness to learn and resilience in the face of vexing challenge (Dweck, 2008).
I think Dweck’s research casts serious doubt on the entire strength based approach to leadership. As soon as people are labeled with certain kinds of strengths or talents, and told to only play to those strengths and avoid their weaknesses, it seems pretty clear to me they are moving away from a malleable theory.
Your organization does not need a shrink to give you a psychological profile of people with the promise of finding their fixed strengths. Instead, it probably needs some plumbers with the knowledge and grit to fix your “crappy” systems.
Grit is good. Praise it when you see it in your people.