The personality construct, grit, has mushroomed in recent years due to the work of American psychologist and researcher Angela L. Duckworth. During her time as a teacher in New York Public Schools, she made the observation that IQ was not the only difference between her top performers and her struggling students: some of her best students were not the most talented while some of her smartest students were not doing too well. In fact, in latter studies, findings indicate that individuals with high levels of grit tend to have slightly less cognitive ability than their more talented counterparts. After studying predictors of success among adults and students from various contexts, Angela L. Duckworth noted what emerged was one characteristic which significantly predicted success – grit.
So, what is grit? Grit is considered an individual’s long-term perseverance of effort and consistency of interest for long-term goals. Perseverance of effort refers to a tendency to work hard in spite of setbacks while consistency of effort indicates one’s tendency towards unfluctuating goals and interests over long periods of time. Angela L. Duckworth colloquially refers to grit as a passion for one’s future and a perseverance in sticking with it and working exceptionally hard to transform that future into a reality. She coins the phrase, “grit is having stamina: grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” To this end we can look at grit as an intrinsic, somewhat motivational factor that plays a role in an individual’s success.
So, how is grit unique? The distinctiveness of grit from conceptually similar constructs like conscientiousness and self-control has been widely debated in scholarly circles. Arguments for grit as a unique construct have been made highlighting the time-based nature of such constructs. Researchers recognise that grit and conscientiousness are similar and would likely measure similarly in individuals, yet grit’s focus on the long-term stamina of individuals is different to that of the short-term focus required of conscientious individuals. In terms of grit’s distinctiveness from self-control, it has again been mentioned that these constructs follow a similar logical connection, however, are not identical due to differing goal frameworks. While self-control involves self-regulation in short-term behavioural impulses, grit involves self-regulation in pursuance of long-term goal(s).
So, what’s grit go to do with performance? The construct has received much attention for its ability to predict success in the academic and, to a lesser extent, professional contexts. I wanted to understand how grit would play out in the South African workplace. As such I posed the question, ‘Does grit predict performance amongst employed South Africans?’ Over two hundred South African employees from different educational and organisational backgrounds answered the call to my question. Amongst these respondents, grit was found to be positively related to performance and as such there is evidence that the grittier an individual, the better their performance at work. I also found evidence for grit’s ability to predict performance – I was able to report that 20% of the change in an individual’s performance is linked to their grittiness. These findings highlight that grit, albeit a moderate predictor of performance, has the potential for voluminous effect once extrapolated across an organisation. Organisations can extract the performance benefits of grit through their recruitment strategies via selection criteria. Additionally, due to the teachable nature of grit, organisations can invoke its benefits through their development interventions.
Author: Amy Goble
Photo by Mona Eendra
Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance
Goble, A. (2020). Exploring the role of psychological ownership in the relationship between grit and task performance (Unpublished masters thesis). University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.