As part of my role on the advisory board of my alma-mater, I have observed several young college students in their various internships, projects and part-time jobs and found myself reflecting on my early work experiences. While many aspects impacting today's young generation are certainly different than when I was young, there are specific behaviors and traits which broadly fall into the "grit" category, which have not changed over the years and may actually be even more important today. Many commentators complain that grit is increasingly absent in today's younger generation – others lament that it is overrated. I believe that grit is critical and found myself asking: where does grit come from and what can we do to foster it?
Grit, it seems to me, is generally driven by three major themes:
• First, kids who needed to work hard to get good at something – in sports, in school, etc. – for whom things did not come easy, developed the grit of hard work. Physically and intellectually, they know the meaning of work. They don't mind to break a sweat so to speak and always demonstrate a can-do attitude. They are resilient, have a high tolerance for failure and are willing to go the extra mile to get a job done.
• The second grit theme is all about curiosity. Kids with this type of grit are willing to listen, are interested in different points of views and have a genuine desire to learn. Their grit is motivated by a desire to figure things out and learn how they work. They seem to be extremely result-oriented.
• And third, I call it the discipline grit, are kids who have a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. These kids have an aura of maturity, demonstrate a common sense attitude and are used to be self-driven to complete a task or do a job.
I believe that grit can be developed and fostered in strong support systems, but I also belief that grit is created in challenging and adverse environments. For example, grit may be fueled by everyone telling you that you are weak and you build resilience in response to it. Therefore, a strong support system needs to provide the right balance of adversity and challenge to foster the development of grit.
• We should encourage kids to take on jobs as much as possible. Even though these days' fancy summer programs are sometimes preferred over entry level jobs, as they are viewed with a certain level of superiority. We should all caution ourselves a little bit, as a tremendous amount can be gained and learned from a "basic" job. My mother used to tell me: "broom the floor with pride – respectfully – and do it better the next time!" I have applied this motto to all my responsibilities ever since.
• We must continuously feed their natural curiosity. As leaders, mentors, guardians or parents, we need to expose the younger generation to different environments and situations. We need to encourage them to think about the world, its problems and issues. We need to talk to them – often – about different topics and encourage them to think about multiple points of views. We need to energize them to be interested – energized to care!
• We have to create more opportunities to take accountability. In our efforts to protect, control and insulate, we sometime forget to let them take the lead, make a decision or give them the responsibility to get a job done. This starts at home by asking for excellence in simple tasks and pushing them to continuously do a job better. Sometimes, this takes a leap of faith, but may allow a kid to step-up, take control and demonstrate leadership.
As much as our younger generation can benefit from more opportunities to "develop more grit" – we all should increasingly push ourselves out of our respective comfort zones, take on jobs for which we lack the skill-set or expose ourselves to the new and unknown. Lead by example. :) Creating an environment which fosters "grit" should be a leader's top priority. It is never too late to refocus our energies on fostering a context that encourages hard work, curiosity and discipline.