Thriving in our workplaces with grit and grace

References to “grit” and “grace” are many, varied and have a long history. (Think about the film “True Grit” starring John Wayne and Hemingway’s book characters who demonstrated “grace under pressure.”) For our purposes — to talk about navigating our workplaces successfully — grit is having the resolve to sustain effort under challenging circumstances; grace is the ability to maintain one’s dignity and honor as we live each day.

Weighing the meaning of grit

University of Pennsylvania psychologist and MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth centers her research on grit, finding that the inclination to focus on the same goal over time and to persist in the face of adversity is predictive of high performance.

Duckworth’s Grit Scale is used widely. She is also the author of the new book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”

David Denby’s critique of Duckworth’s work in the New Yorker (“The Limits of ‘Grit,’” June 21, 2016) cautions against whole-hearted acceptance of grit as the over-arching reason for success.

He says “you can grind away for years and get nowhere if you aren’t adaptable, creative, alert,” pointing out that in modern offices, many people work in teams, present ideas to a group and move from one project to another, making grit “beside the point.”

In this view, working smart is far more important than working hard.

Jerry Useem adds to the challenge in his article “Is Grit Overrated?” (The Atlantic May 2016) contending that grit may be essential, but demonstrating an all-consuming ambition can be off-putting to others.

Duckworth does agree that one should direct one’s passion to making an impact that will also improve the well being of others.

A touch of grace

Enter grace. April Williams has described eloquently the meaning of grace for the workplace in an article for the Grit and Virtue blog (“What Business Has Taught Me about Grace,” Nov. 2, 2016):

Grace is kindness, favor, dignity and respect. It means being thoughtful and diplomatic, but it doesn’t mean being a doormat. A woman who finds grace in business is one who is self-confident and doesn’t feel the need to point out the mistakes of others in order to feel good about herself. Grace is being compassionate and understanding, but making the right decisions and not the people-pleasing ones.

There is rarely a sure-fire path to success. The path presents a combination of factors, surely requiring measures of grit tailored to individual circumstances.

Grace added to grit means that we try to overcome the common leader’s tendency to seek power for power’s sake. Instead, we seek to earn the privilege of using power to make lasting contributions to our professions and to our various communities, small and large.

Join WELD at the Hyatt Regency Columbus on March 30 for the opportunity to pursue these ideas at the annual Keynote event featuring author and commentator Margie Warrell (BRAVE: 50 Everyday Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love and Life). Her talk “Earned It. Own It” will inspire listeners to own their value and to cultivate grit and grace.


Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee and Barb Smoot is the President and CEO of WELD, Women for Economic and Leadership Development, desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio.