Achievement is a theme that appears, explicitly or implicitly, in almost everything that is written about leadership. Whether the focus is on the role of the leader in helping individuals and organizations achieve excellence or the imperative to set and meet one’s own personal and professional goals, the concept of achievement and the related notion of success have been the drivers behind innumerable programs, theories, and approaches.
At the same time, there is growing recognition that burnout is a significant problem for many physicians and leaders. In the past decade, there have been increasing calls for “work–life balance,” as duty-hour restrictions for residents and wellness programs have been introduced. In addition to changes in the working environment, there has also been more research on resilience and attempts to understand what factors contribute to the ability of an individual to persevere despite challenges.
Angela Duckworth is one of the leading researchers on this topic. A professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Duckworth has published extensively on the topic of perseverance in the peer-reviewed literature. Based on her research, she has developed the Grit Scale to measure tendency to persevere toward goals. Now, she has published a book on the subject intended for a general audience: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Grit is a topic that resonates with a lot of people, if the appearance of this book on the bestseller charts is any indication.
As Dr. Duckworth presents her research findings, she tells the story of how she became interested in the topic and the ways in which her ideas have evolved. An important insight is that grit is more than just the capacity for hard work. It is also the ability to select and maintain goals over time and not to become distracted from them. Part of what facilitates this focus is the ability to identify and fix on topics about which one can be passionate. The many narratives throughout the book — of people who have displayed grit — make it engaging as well as authoritative.
This book is essential reading for leaders who wish to develop an evidence-based understanding of the factors that contribute to perseverance and achievement. It contains many insights that will be useful for those who want to promote resilience in others, including readers who are parents interested in raising gritty children. I gave it to my teenage daughter to read, and she couldn’t put it down.
It also led me to reflect on my own tendency to divide my attention between different topics and to switch goals to new areas that interest me. Turns out I am probably not as gritty as I thought, and while that may not be a bad thing, it does provide me with insights into why I may never achieve the level others will.
Those who are interested can measure their own grittiness at http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/.
Lara Hazelton, MD, Med, FRCPC, is the director of Academic Faculty Development, and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University, Halifax.