Grit: A critical success factor

Lasting success is impossible without grit. In business as well as other endeavours, uncertainties are as certain as death. There will be turns and twists; there will be disappointments and disillusionment; there will be unexpected occurrences; there will be slowdowns and setbacks. But the person that is certain to overcome all these and achieve his set objective is the one that is gritty.

For a leader who wants to make a mark, grit is not negotiable.


What is grit?

Grit is an unrepentant resolve to succeed against all odds. It is a mindset that settles for nothing but what it set out to achieve. It is an unwavering commitment to goals. It is a belief that nothing is unachievable. It is a conviction in personal and organizational objectives. It is tenacity of purpose. Grit is being fastened to your goal through thick and thin. It is working to achieve your goals day after day, week after week, month after month. It is staying on course for as long as it takes to arrive at the finishing line. Hence, Angela Duckworth says grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

Grit is what sustains the leader when everything else fails. It is what keeps the leader going when situation turns awry. It kept Abraham Lincoln going despite his many losses; it kept Nelson Mandela going in the prison for 27 years; it kept Winston Churchill going even when it appeared the war was already lost.


Grit is superior to the talent

Talent is good; it gives a head start to those who have it but it does not guarantee success. Unless talent is matched with grit, it will amount to nothing because talent has the tendency of quaking and breaking in the face of challenges. Hence the statement by Calvin Coolidge that, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”


Grit is greater than hard work

Hard work is a virtue and it plays a major role in success but without grit added to it, the desired end may be elusive. This is because many hardworking people expect immediate benefits. But the truth is that sometimes benefit of hard work is delayed. If that happens, the hardworking person, who is unwilling to delay gratification, loses out because he is unable to persevere while gratification is slow in showing up.


Grit is better than intelligence

Intelligent people are in a world of their own. They are regarded as special and are accorded great respect by all who cross their path. But there are many intelligent people who failed to make a mark while there are many averagely intelligent and those regarded as unintelligent who have changed the world because of their grit.

Thomas Edison was regarded as unintelligent. His teacher, the Reverend Engle, referred to him as ‘addled’, a person who lacks the capacity to think clearly. But this same Edison had 1,093 United States patents and had inventions which include the electric bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera.

Intelligence failed Edison but grit made him. He carried out 10,000 experiments on the electric bulb before getting it right. So, the secret of his success was not his intelligence, it was his ability to stay fastened to his goal of inventing the electric bulb. It was his ability to stay committed to what he knew to be the right thing. Little wonder Edison defined genius as one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Perspiration is spelt g-r-i-t.

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Alakija’s demonstration of grit

Mrs Folorunsho Alakija’s oil exploration expectation appeared dead on arrival. The rig awarded to her company after three years of waiting was the one no one wanted because it was deep offshore and nobody was exploring deep offshore then because it was quite expensive as a result of non-availability of the right technology at that time. Then her technical partners pulled out. She had a licence but had neither the money to pay for it nor the technical knowhow to drive the process. Faced with the threat of losing the licence, her family had to deploy its life savings to pay for it. Then after three years of searching for a technical partner, Texaco showed up and agreed to take 40 per cent of the company, leaving Alakija with 60 per cent. That brought a reprieve.

But it was short-lived because after the company struck oil, and this was announced, the government decided to take 50 per cent of Alakija’s share of the company, leaving her with 10 per cent. Alakija felt devastated. She saw her vision being shattered. She saw her dream being stolen by those who equated might with right. She saw her world crumbling. But rather than throw up her hands in surrender, she decided to fight for what she believed was rightly hers.

Her words, “We felt it was unfair. We had taken the sole risk and invested everything we had in the business. It had become a family business. We spent six years as a family to ensure this worked out and now that it was bearing fruit, they just stepped in and took away everything we had struggled and worked extremely hard for.”

She decided to fight the government with the whole of her might using the opportunities provided in the constitution. She challenged the government in court against the advice of her friends and well wishers who were of the view that the matter had the look of an unwinnable war. After about 12 years, the courts ruled in her favour and the government was compelled to return her full equity in the business to her.

Mrs Folorunsho Alakija is the second richest African woman today more because of her grit than anything else.


How to develop grit

Aristotle’s postulation is that every child comes to the world with a blank mind, adding that beliefs and character traits are formed as a consequence of interactions with the environment. Going by that, nobody is born with grit but everybody can develop it.


Set a goal

Goal setting is determining the end from the beginning. A goal is a guide into the future. It is a compass that shows you where you are headed. It streamlines activities and helps to concentrate energy and resources on what really matters. It also helps in measuring accomplishments on the journey to the defined end. While success may happen without setting goals, lasting success cannot happen without goal setting.


Something about goals 

A goal should not be perfunctory. Goals should not be set in a vacuum. Goals ought to be a product of rigorous contemplation and introspection. The one setting the goal must start by convincing himself on the importance of the set goal before launching out to accomplish it. He first must answer the question of how long he is willing to wait if the realization of his goals is delayed. Failure to answer this question is why many goals are abandoned before they are realized.


Focus on the end, not the process

In most cases, things go wrong not because of carelessness but in spite of carefulness. The best plans go awry, the best strategies fail, star staff disappoint, government policies ground plans, natural disasters disrupt projections and new technologies threaten organizational existence. When things go wrong, look away from the process and concentrate on the end, what you set out to achieve. If you look at the process you get disappointed and feel like backing out. But when you look at the end, you are motivated to try one more time.

When Alhaji Aliko Dangote decided to embark on cement manufacturing locally, he was given a wrong professional advice that almost wrecked his business empire.

Sharing his experience with Forbes Africa, he said, “We were importing cement and we had an import terminal in Lagos and Port Harcourt. The government gave incentives to people who would make Nigeria self-sufficient in cement and so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and build a cement plant.

“So we brought in a contractor and we asked them to do the soil test and also the foundation test. Then they gave us the wrong soil test. Normally, the northern part of Nigeria has very hard ground. But they came back and said we just needed a shallow foundation with a maximum of two metres. So the drawing and everything was done based on a two-metre foundation. As soon as we were three months into the job we realised it was more than this.

“So now we had to go and do piling. We had to stop and change all the drawings and all of a sudden we were faced with 1,000 piles to be built and there were not enough rigs in Nigeria. So we had to order new rigs and even buy rigs for some of the contractors.

“We needed to raise $480 million but the problem was 90 per cent of the banks at the time had a market capital of only $20 million. In addition, there were no long-term loans, only short-term loans for about 90 days, so you could tell the challenge we faced. The project stopped, we had to change the drawings and we could not borrow too much money in the system. Borrowing short term and investing in a long-term business was so difficult.

“In my office, I had the project drawings on my wall but I knew that once this project fails the group is gone and that is what really kept me going. It was a major project for us because our size, compared to a project of half a billion then, was big money for us.”

Dangote was able to stay the course because he kept his focus on the end, not what he was going through.


Resolve to pay the necessary price

Many of those who are unable to persevere are always on the lookout for short cut to success. But the fact is that those looking for short cuts always set themselves up for rude shock at the end because the only route to success is the high way of hard work.

According to H.L. Hunt, an American oil magnate, to succeed, “you have to decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it and go to work.” There is a always a price to pay for success. Many great ideas are destroyed because the promoters are unwilling to pay the required price to bring them to life. There is a price to pay to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Paying the price to get to the top requires discipline. Discipline is resolving to do whatever it takes to achieve an end. The price for success is discipline. Discipline has two components; doing what is not convenient but necessary and restraining oneself from doing what is convenient but largely a waste of time and effort. Doing either comes with pains. But in life, everyone has to choose between two pains, the pains of discipline and the pains of regrets. Wise people choose the former.


Last line

The world only gives you what you don’t give up, not what you deserve or demand.

The post Grit: A critical success factor appeared first on Tribune.

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