Why You Need Grit To Get Your Projects Done

Image Credit: Running By Skeeze (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Running By Skeeze (Pixabay.com)

Imagine two professional project managers are given similar projects to manage and deliver. They have comparable technology resources, similar teams and other capabilities at their command. Why would one project manager achieve success while the other decides to abandon the effort? In many cases, the answer comes down to grit.

Defining Grit And Why It Matters To Your Success

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappoint- ment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course. – Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals by Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews and Dennis R. Kelly

Talent, skill and education are valuable. Yet they are not the complete the picture. As the above quote suggests, the trait of grit matters a great deal. On an intuitive level, this research rings true with me. In 2015, I took up long distance running in races for the first. In April 2015, I ran the Toronto Yonge Street 10k (my very frist race!) and a few days ago, I ran the half marathon (21.1 km) in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. These events are all about grit.

Grit matters in physical achievement and far beyond that setting. If you are leading a complex project, building a software product or writing a book, grit makes the difference.

The 2007 Grit Case Study: Success in West Point and Beyond

Some people are skeptical of the value of personal development as it relates to professional and business success. I appreciate that perspective. The evidence for the value of grit is strong and worth examining in detail. My favorite example of grit in action comes from the United States Military Academy at West Point and other students. The following quotes are drawn from the Grit study linked to in the previous section.

  • Grit predicted completion of the rigorous [West Point] summer training program better than any other predictor.
  • In Studies 4 and 5, grit was a better predictor of first summer retention at West Point than was either self-control or a summary measure of cadet quality used by the West Point admissions committee.
  • Among more than 3,500 participants attending nine different colleges, follow-through was a better predictor than all other variables, including SAT scores and high school rank, of whether a student would achieve a leadership position in college.

The second bullet point is striking and worth exploring. Everyone who goes through the summer program at West Point has already met a high standard for academic achievement, focus and character. So what determines who continues with the program? The researchers found that the grit trait makes an important difference.

How To Develop Your Grit

At this point, I trust the value and merits of grit are clear to you. That just leaves one question – how do we develop this quality and achieve more of our goals? The effort is well worth it. As you develop more grit as a project manager, you will inspire your team. Your greater focus will mean fewer failed projects and a stronger reputation at work. Use these five techniques to get started.

1. Build Your Willpower

Will power, also known as self-control, is a skill that you can develop over time. Lack of willpower is a significant barrier to success. More than 25% of Americans cite lack of willpower as a barrier to achieving their goals according to the 2011 Stress in America Survey organized by the American Psychological Association.

You can build your willpower capacity by going through small tests to resist temptation. A classic approach is to resist eating a sweet or dessert for a period of time. You could postpone a dessert by an hour instead of eating it immediately. The willpower you develop through such exercises will yield benefits in other areas of your career.

2. Write Clear Goals

Without clear goals, focus becomes difficult. In a project management context, you might have a goal to “improve IT performance.” Unfortunately, that goal is vague so it is difficult to measure progress and determine when you have achieved victory. Use these guidelines to develop better goals.

  • The Third Party Rule: A clearly written goal can be measured by a stranger who has never met you. If there is no objective evidence or measures involved, it is easy to deceive yourself (knowingly or not).
  • Deadline: Project management professionals have long known the power of deadlines to motivate action. A deadline provides a sense of urgency that helps you to make daily progress.
  • The Numbers Rule: There is a lot of truth to the old saying that numbers don’t lie. Look for a way to add numbers, dollars or some other quantifiable meaure. A customer service project might start with a vague intent to improve customer service. Instead, yuo could add a measure to the process by using the Net Promoter Score system or target certain results through a survey.

3. Identify Your Reasons For Working On A Goal

Students at West Point have plenty of reasons to successfully complete their studies. There is prestige and social status associated with graduating from the school. Graduates also have access to an alumni network that includes U.S. Presidents, entrepreneurs and other leaders. In addition, West Point graduates are famous for their dedication and personal discipline.

It’s now time for you to identify the reasons for your goal. What’s the connection between reasons and grit? Simply put, reviewing your reasons will give you added motivation during times of difficulty. I first learned the importance and value of developing a list of reasons (or “Whys for your goal”) when I took Michael Hyatt’s Five Days To Your Best Year Ever program in 2014. As a guideline, I suggest writing three to five reasons for each goal you work on.

4. Use Tiny Habits To Make Gradual Change

Some goals in life are about creating new habits. As James Clear has shown, shaping habits is a powerful way to achieve sucess in business and other areas of life (keep in mind: habits account for about 40% of your actions on a daily basis). Success habits for project managers include meeting habits, ways to manage conflict and related points. If you are looking for baby steps to build better habits, I recommend the Tiny Habits program.

5.  Access Resources And Support

From time to time, you will need support from other people to achieve your goals. At West Point, that could be tips from an upper year student. In the project management world, you might ask review the lessons learned database. Or you could read the articles here on Project Management Hacks! For more career advancement resources that will help you improve your grit, join the Project Management Hacks email newsletter.

Further Reading On Grit

To continue your studies on grit and related qualities, explore these articles and related resources.

Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals by Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews and Dennis R. Kelly, 2007

Grit and the Secret of Success by Maria Popova, 2014

The key to success? Grit by Angela Lee Duckworth, TED.com, 2013

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Release Date: May 3, 2016)

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson, 2012

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3 thoughts on “Why You Need Grit To Get Your Projects Done

  1. Bruce,

    This is in time for me since I am working towards consistency with my tasks (thus the articles that I am writing on LinkedIn). Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk has really inspired me to pursue success during my time of failures. And I am grateful that you have shared her paper with the audience here. Who knows GRIT can be a quantifiable trait to be measured and controlled (hats off to the six sigma/LEAN engineers reading this)!

    On project management, I want to know if there are any tools and techniques that highlight the importance of GRIT. The PMBOK guide has provided a lot of structures, processes, and frameworks. But I have yet to come across something to beat procrastination, which is the killer of all successes in our work/life projects.

    Please keep up the good work, thank you!


    • Hi David,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. As far as I know, the grit concept has not been covered in project management. I do see the concept aligning with the leadership category in PMI’s new model.