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How to weave grit into your company’s culture

Can you can find ways to demand more from your team while still encouraging them to grow?

4 min read


grit duckworth
Cover of Angela Duckworth’s “Grit”

According to New York Times bestselling author Angela Duckworth, parenting begins and ends with grit.

In her book “Grit,” she describes it as a combination of passion and perseverance. On Duckworth’s “grit spectrum,” parenting styles can fall anywhere along a continuum, from supportive to apathetic, challenging to undemanding. The concept also applies in the context of corporate leadership styles.

How do your organization’s leaders measure up?

4 kinds of leadership styles

Neglectful: Unsupportive and undemanding

These types of “leaders” are absent, offer little to no oversight, show no appreciation, have few or no expectations, and are often too overwhelmed to deal with the well-being of their employees. This style fosters employees who just show up and punch the clock. They may also have difficulty forming genuine partnerships with co-workers or clients.

Permissive: Supportive and undemanding

These leaders are friendly with their teams, but don’t push them. Thus, employees aren’t encouraged to innovate. Their attitudes may be positive, but they don’t help the company grow. This style nurtures nice people who can’t make hard decisions — those who quit when things get tough.

Authoritarian: Unsupportive and demanding

Authoritarian leaders land on the “strict” end of the spectrum. They have very high expectations, but don’t foster a supportive environment. Employees may feel challenged, but tend to work in fear. Steve Jobs, for instance, got a lot out of people by pushing them hard. However, it took an emotional toll. This style creates employees who may push the company forward, but don’t feel rewarded. They burn out quickly, and turnover is often high.

Wise: Supportive and demanding

This is the preferred model. These types of leaders demand a lot, yet provide support and resources. They set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals. They talk about their own challenges and model grit by not giving up when things get tough. Their teams are challenged to become gritty employees, striving to improve. They feel fulfilled, supported, empowered, and comfortable taking risks.

3 ways to cultivate grit

Become a supportive and demanding leader. Balance high expectations and goals with support, encouragement, and training. At Acceleration Partners, every 90 days, all of our team members set ambitious goals that determine their priorities for the quarter, and they are held accountable for making progress toward them. If an employee sets a goal that’s too low or unambitious, his manager will work with him to achieve more in a positive, thoughtful way.

Establish values that reflect supportive and demanding leadership. To hire and develop people who want to be challenged, define your company’s core values and select candidates who embody them. At Intel, employees are pushed to take risks by confronting and learning to diplomatically question the status quo. Thus, its employees’ values come to reflect the company’s own.

Hire team members who have been challenged. Last year, at our annual meeting in Boston, we held a “Great Race” based around the history and culture of the city. One team that lacked any familiarity with Boston came in last, but instead of getting discouraged, they debriefed and built a collective resilience and determination. So, seek out candidates who can convey their persistence in interviews — employees who persevere possess real grit and will perform at a higher level.

If you can find ways to demand more from your team while still encouraging them to grow, the grit you’ll weave into the fabric of your entire organization will strengthen it from the inside out.


Robert Glazer is the founder and managing director of Acceleration Partners, a performance marketing firm that ranked No. 4 on Fortune’s 10 Best Workplaces in Advertising & Marketing and No. 5 on their Best Workplaces for Women list. Glazer received the SmartCEO Future 50 Award in 2016.

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