March 26, 2017 – Stuff.co.nz
By Lucy Hone
Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a high-flying executive coach from Washington DC. Caroline Adams Miller, who works with Fortune 500 companies and lectures on MBA programmes at Ivy League universities, was in the country to promote her new book, Getting Grit (published by SoundsTrue), due out in May.
GRIT IS THE MISSING X FACTOR
One of Adams Miller’s key roles nowadays is helping large corporations to boost grit in Millennial employees. She defines grit as passion, purpose and perseverance, although some of what she teaches is pretty basic stuff: how to show up on time, work diligently, stick with the task even when it’s tough, be respectful and handle honest, and sometimes critical, feedback. “Grit is the ‘X’ factor that people long to understand and nurture”, she explains.
She was full of mind-boggling anecdotes demonstrating how non-gritty young Americans have become and the causes of this. Not only the more familiar examples such as the removal of risky features from children’s playgrounds to protect a generation of “bubble-wrapped” kids, but the news that parallel parking has been taken out of US driving tests after being deemed too hard. Then there’s escalated grade inflation that led to an Ohio high school naming 222 graduating students as valedictorian in 2015.
And Adams Miller spoke of her personal frustration and astonishment on discovering her local swimming pool had hidden the board showing former Olympians’ swim times – for fear of hurting current swimmers’ feelings. “Honestly, they took down the record board because they worried it might discourage our kids to see how fast the club’s former Olympians had swum,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Add to this are stories of a “safe space” room at Brown University allowing traumatised students to recover from confrontational debates, and Adams Miller is spitting that Millienials “raised on mountains of trophies and self-esteem-building ceremonies” are turning out to be a disaster in the working world. Words like fragile, narcissistic and entitled trip off her tongue. “Many value fame and money over meaning and purpose, seek shortcuts over hard work, and fold in the face of setbacks,” she laments.
FIRMS SEEK FARMERS
All of this is apparently having a substantial knock-on effect on firms’ hiring practices. When everyone has a degree and the majority has good grades, employers resort to new ways of identifying candidates that have a strong work ethic and capacity for teamwork.
They’re scouring CVs for other things. What sort of things? One HR exec told her he routinely looks for swimmers, rowers and farmers – “people who can obviously get up in the morning, get on with others, overcome disappointment and get the job done without complaining all the time or requiring endless approval”. Essentially, those with grit.
But given that we’re not all farmers who can ride a horse like John Wayne, just how are we supposed to get grit ourselves, or instill it in others? Adams Miller’s book suggests the following formula: set and value hard goals and don’t be afraid to fail.
“The happiest people wake up every day to hard goals, not easy goals,” she explains. This aligns with research indicating humans have a habit of scanning back through their day for the challenging moments and activities they’ve navigated successfully. Who hasn’t done that? It’s what gives our life meaning and that’s what makes us feel good, not skipping through our days taking the easy option.
To those of us raising or teaching kids in the bubble-wrap era, she recommends we tell stories of overcoming tough hurdles and tough times, demonstrate risk-taking, model delayed gratification and patience, and don’t be afraid to critique at times – we all need to be able to accept some criticism.
In a nutshell, she’s urging us to be bolder, more tenacious and more inspirational. As someone who has clawed her way back from bulimia, she has seen first hand the power of cultivating grit.