Updated: Jul 10
Few employers are well equipped to hire and handle the Teslas and Edisons. Their brilliance: unquestioned. But their strengths were so unique, their mercurial personalities so challenging that figuring out how to lead or manage them would be beyond most of us. Their stars burned so hot that they hurt even themselves not to mention the people around them.
Yet hiring managers believe such geniuses could add amazing value to their group, perhaps creating the next concept or product that could upend the world like harnessing alternating current did. And while no one wants to be known as the person who rejected Edison’s application for employment, how much time and money is realistic to spend in searching for such ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ characters?
Modern organizations are not set up to depend on the lone genius. Companies like IDEO, perhaps the most successful innovation organization in the world, look for people who leverage their high IQ with the EQ necessary to work with others.
But there is something else. Something that successful people at IDEO have. Something that 5’4” 105-pound Green Beret Jan Rutherford and the huge character Rooster Cogburn of True Grit have in common. Grit.
And what exactly is grit? Edison famously claimed that “genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”. Yet working hard is not quite the whole of grit. Working hard is part of it. The rest of the definition is about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes to reach that goal.
Angela Duckworth, a pioneer in studying the characteristics of grit, claims that she would “bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit”.
Our blog on What Leaders Have in Common addressed the commonalities between Golda Meir, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi. Grit was clearly a key factor in each of their successes. Each of them faced challenges that would have caused many people to stop pushing against insurmountable forces – but something in them didn’t let them stop – certainly not the many failures they encountered along the way.
Yes, they were disheartened at times. Family and friends even encouraged them to give up their path because it might cost them their lives. But their grit overcame their fears and reservations. In his book, The Littlest Green Beret, Jan Rutherford talks about the grit necessary for success. In training to be a green beret where the failure rate is high, Rutherford discovered that after being ridiculed by drill sergeants and peers, after nearly freezing for days in the wilderness, after days without sleep and almost no food, that he had to be willing to sacrifice and suffer – yes, suffer -- for what he wanted most.
When deciding who to hire, look for what they’ve been willing to sacrifice for or give up in order to achieve something important. If everything has been easy, they’ve quickly overcome all obstacles, have had no setbacks, you might want to explore more deeply. You have not surfaced the key aspects of the person that will really tell you what you need to know to make a good hiring decision.
Hiring smart means selecting individuals with the IQ necessary to get the job done, the EQ required to work collaboratively and the grit to do what it takes to succeed.