Seeing grit in action in one of the grittiest places on the planet
In her Ted talk and new book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth explores why some people – entrepreneurs, students, rookie teachers in the urban core or West Point cadets – succeed. Her answer? Grit. Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” even in the face of challenges.
I’ve been thinking about grit and entrepreneurship lately. I saw a lot of both on a recent project in Malawi, Africa. In the literal sense, rural Malawi is one of the grittiest environments on the planet. The average per capita income is $255 a year. Most homes are one-room huts with no electricity or running water, and the red-clay soil fills your shoes, if you have a pair, with grit.
Grit may be a teachable or learnable trait in developed economies, but it’s a daily survival skill in Malawi. Here are three examples, among the dozens I observed, of grit in action.
Solar-Charged Opportunity: Traditional communications infrastructure has limited reach, but mobile phone use is pervasive. People who did not have access to electricity or running water in their homes eagerly showed me photos of their children on their phones. In most villages, it’s easy to spot the entrepreneur who runs the mobile phone-charging business: just look for the hut with the solar panel propped against a milk crate in the front yard.
A Recipe for Perseverance: Michael supports his five children and relatives by preparing meals for visiting project teams – a skill he learned during a 9-year stint cooking for a Dutch family. Late one afternoon, the guest house lost access to water and electricity while Michael was preparing dinner. He quickly shifted gears and built a charcoal fire outside. With the help of candles and my flashlight, he finished preparing the meal on the kitchen stoop. Then he mounted his bike for the hour-long commute, in pitch darkness, to his village. True grit.
The Next Big Fish: I first observed English at the Lake Malawi shoreline, chatting with the fisherman preparing their boats and nets for night fishing. The next morning, I found him on the guest house porch with the work of the village painters and carvers he represents displayed for sale. A day later, he was back with fresh-caught fish from the boats he represents. English is a salesman who gets results. He works from sunrise to sundown because his goal is to buy a boat, hire fisherman and run his own fishing operation.
Grit requires sticking with the hard tasks and working hard to make future goals a reality. By that definition, some of the grittiest people I’ve ever observed live in the rural villages of Malawi.
Got Grit? If you’re curious about your own grit quotient, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.
Are you taking back your team’s work?
I had a client who was good at solving problems. He was so good at it that he unintentionally trained his team and customers to bring their problems to him for resolution. For every question, request or issue, Dave prided himself on having the answer and finding the solution. He was so overwhelmed with other people’s work that he had little time to focus on new business opportunities.
He had what I call “Silver Platter” Syndrome.
Maybe you have it yourself. You want to be helpful, and it’s ego-boosting to be viewed as the problem-solver. If you cultivate that perception, as Dave did, your steam and customers will see their problems as valuable to you. And they’ll present those issues to you on a silver platter. Here’s how to break the cycle – and resolve issues.
Four Simple Steps
Most “Silver Platter” situations can be resolved with four simple steps. The steps are consistent, although the sequence in which you choose to use them may vary.
State the Facts: Clarify the facts about the situation as you/others currently understand it.
Listen: Avoid stepping in with a solution. Let others do the talking – even if that means waiting patiently through awkward silences.
Ask Questions: Help others clarify the issues, explore options and choose the best alternative. Keep your questions focused on how they can solve their own problem without taking it on yourself.
Set Expectations: Clarify the responsibilities and decisions that you are delegating and the specific timelines for getting them done. Mutually agree on interim status reports.
The chart below describes common situations and how to apply these steps.
Your Team Has/Says:
Missed a deadline.
“I assume you’ll do this?”
“I have a problem.”
|State the Facts|
Example: “The assessment deadline is today. The assessment is not complete.”
Keep silent and let the other person(s) talk.
State the Facts
Examples: What are the issues? What are your options for getting this done? What do you think is your best option? How can this option be executed?
Example: “Based on your best option, you’ll get it done by 5:00 today. Let me know how it’s going at 2:00.”
(Re)State the Facts
As Dale Carnegie challenged more than 80 years ago, “Don’t you have much more faith in ideas that you discover for yourself than in ideas that are handed to you on a silver platter?” One of the best ways to develop leadership skills, for yourself and others, is not solving their problems for them.
“I just told someone about you.”
If you’re business owner or salesperson, you’ve heard this statement countless times. It’s a compliment to be mentioned – but it doesn’t necessarily help you to grow your business.
According to online community Top Sales World, salespeople who actively seek out and leverage referrals earn four to five times more than those who don’t. The missing link? You may have to teach your best sources how to make referrals. Here’s how to turn a compliment into a customer.
Frame the Ask
Tell your source in specific terms what type of referral you are seeking and can serve best. For example, if your source is an accountant and your ideal customer is the Director of Finance for a manufacturing company, provide your source with the names of specific companies that are a good fit for you. If your source is a customer who fits your ideal customer profile, help them to think about similar people among family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors, professional and social groups, or business contacts.
Define the Process
Give your source a clear process for referring.
- Find out who the referral is and what your source said.
- Make sure you get the referral’s contact information such as: “Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll reach out to Tom and mention that we spoke. First, let’s make sure I have the correct phone and email for him.”
- Suggest an email exchange, such as: Why don’t I send an email to Jane and copy you, so that all three of us are in the loop? If your source prefers to make the introduction, agree upon a timeframe: “I appreciate your making that email introduction for us. Will this afternoon work for you?”
Provide the Tools
Even your biggest fans won’t make referrals unless it’s easy for them.
- If your source talks to people face-to-face, provide them with several of your business cards with the message “Referred by (source’s name)” on the back.
- If you have sources that communicate primarily through email, provide them with a brief referral message that describes the positive outcomes of working with your company, product or service. Add your email address to the cc line, and add a link to your LinkedIn profile to the body of the email. Your source can simply forward this email to the referral.
Targeted referrals are an effective way to grow your business. They also require a give-to-get mentality. Make it easy and mutually beneficial for your sources to make referrals, and you’ll convert compliments to customers.
Are you a Risk Manager or Opportunity Seeker?
Knowing the difference can have a significant impact on your meeting outcomes. Early in my career, I worked for a global consulting firm. I vividly remember one of the first meetings to discuss a new initiative that I had been assigned to spearhead. I laid out the opportunities, expecting an animated exchange. What transpired instead was a detailed discussion of the possible implementation challenges.
That meeting was a Eureka moment in my career. I had approached the meeting as an opportunity seeker, while most of my colleagues had approached it as risk managers.
Since that time, I’ve seen countless examples of meetings that have gone awry because of similar opportunity/risk miscalculations. Chances are you’ve experienced a few yourself. Why does it happen? Most people have a dominant mindset along the spectrum of opportunity seeker to risk manager, and will frame their meeting participation according to that mindset. What’s the difference? These two comments illustrate the distinctions:
Risk Manager: “We must make sure that the trains run on time.”
Opportunity Seeker: “Why does it have to be a train?”
A Meeting of the Mindsets
There’s nothing wrong with either point of view. Each mindset is valuable in developing an idea, project or initiative. The key is to find a balance that allows both ideas to be explored and challenges to be uncovered. How do you give risk managers permission to think in terms of possibilities, and encourage opportunity seekers to consider the downsides? Here are two simple ways.
Ideal Scenario: Begin by discussing the ideal scenario. Ask each participant to describe the ideal scenario for the idea, project, or initiative, from his or her point of view. Remind everyone to focus comments exclusively on the ideal scenario.
Pre-Mortem: After you have documented the ideal scenario, shift gears using a technique developed by James Macanufo. Fast forward your idea, project or initiative into the in future (next year, end of next quarter, next month). What could go wrong? Ask everyone to focus discussion on aspects of the idea, project tor initiative that might not go as planned.
Spend the remainder of your meeting identifying steps and processes for implementation that maximize the opportunity and limit the risks.
Opportunity seekers and risk managers both bring useful skills to the table. When you balance their perspectives, the result is a meeting of complimentary mindsets.
Susan is a business owner who loves to innovate.
She generally makes good business decisions, except when she’s under pressure. A week before the most important trade show of the year, Susan decided to create a holiday-themed video. She spent several 20-hour days working on the video, pulling staff away from important show preparation.
At the trade show, the video got only passing glances from attendees. Susan was too exhausted to work the company’s booth effectively and hadn’t prepared her staff to step into her role. The company’s show orders decreased 30 percent from the previous year.
Maybe you’ve been in Susan’s shoes. You have a significant project to complete, a month-end quota to meet or a looming deadline. Just thinking about the work overwhelms you, and your knee-jerk reaction is to focus on something else – anything else. The decision you make in that moment will move your business forward, or set it back.
You can break this bad-decision cycle with one simple question:
What is the best use of my time right now?
Here are three simple ways to manage your time for the results you want.
Reviewing Your Goals
Write down your goals in an easily accessible format. Two options are to store them on a mobile device or keep them on a card in your wallet. As you review your goals, ask yourself: What is the best use of my time right now? Identify actions that will move you toward your goals.
Setting Your Daily To-Do List
Chances are that the tasks on your daily to do list exceed the time you have to accomplish them. Start by categorizing your list by:
- Tasks that maintain your current business
- Tasks that grow your business
- Tasks that simplify your business
Review the tasks in each of these categories and ask: What is the best use of my time today in each of these categories? Then select the most important items for the day.
Using the Gaps in Your Schedule
Every business day has schedule gaps. Some are intentional windows of time between meetings; others take shape due to cancellations or unexpected adjustments. Examine how are you using those gaps in your schedule, and ask yourself again: What is the best use of my time right now?
Fifteen minutes between meetings can be a coffee run, or a time to connect with a high-value customer. Having lunch with a friend could be time better spent having lunch with a new business contact. That 40-minute task could be halfway to completion in 20 minutes
Deciding to take action is not the issue. Deciding to spend your time wisely is. Using this simple, powerful question on a daily basis can help you manage your time for results.