Posted on December 16, 2016
Last week, I introduced Angela Duckworth’s concept of Grit. We examined the role of passion and purpose in self-care and high performance in the helping professions. This week, we consider the second aspect of grit, perseverance.
Duckworth and others have discovered a particular type of motivation in successful people. She gives us two simple formulas that successful people use to succeed in their areas of interest.
Talent x Effort = Skills
Skills x Effort = Achievement
Talent has been an interest of mine since I picked up Buckingham and Coffman’s First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Their great book was based upon an extensive Gallup study of managers that get great results, and it changed how I approached management and leadership. One of their key conclusions was that great managers have the ability to hire people with innate talent.
Buckingham and Coffman’s focus on talent created a hyper-focus on talent with spawned many books and tools for identifying one’s talent. As a manager, I learned that my task was to find people with the right personality, natural abilities, and passion that fit the position I was hiring. The challenge was to hire the right person, and then train for the necessary skills to succeed at the tasks associated with the position.
Over the years, I developed a talent for assessing talent and hired some fantastic staff who did incredible work. However, this model of talent seemed always to fall short when describing my very best staff. Two people could have similar personalities and resumes, but the second part of Duckworth’s equation, effort, helps explain why one hired with the right talent might be a good staff, and one with similar talent becomes a superstar.
Greatness requires years of deliberate effort and practice. Effort does not mean working 80 hour weeks, giving up personal time to check e-mails, or working over the weekend. This type of effort requires a mindset that your success, or lack of it, is highly dependent on the amount of deliberate practice you put in. Carol Dweck’s concept of the Growth Mindset captures this perfectly.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way…they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
Our culture loves the concept of the “born genius.” The born genius is someone thought to be destined for greatness, but putting this label on someone is disrespectful in almost every situation it attempts to describe. Read the biographies of Bach, Newton, Beethoven, or Jordan. None of them reached great heights due to some inherited genetic condition. They might have been born with some talent, but they were great because they worked their butts off hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
Duckworth’s equation shows that when talent combines with effort, we develop skills. It is when we deliberately practice these skills that we accomplish great things. Like the rapper, Macklemore, says, The greats weren’t great ‘cause at birth they could paint. The greats are great cause they paint a lot.
Unfortunately, if we are burnt out or traumatized by our work, we will struggle to find the energy to put in the effort to strategically develop skills or achieve great things in our work with clients. If you can barely make it through the day, when are you going to have time or energy to learn a new skill, read books to develop a new expertise, or go back to college and get that long-desired degree?
Burnout and trauma kill our ambition. Ambition often has a bad connotation in our fields, but I think we need to stop seeing ambition as a dirty word. I am ambitious. I want to be a part of creating trauma informed communities, with an ultimate goal of establishing a trauma informed United States. If I am going to be alive to see this happen, I must work my butt off, and push myself to both be the best student and teacher I can possibility be. I’m okay with saying, I want to be great at what I do!
For those readers that might not feel like they have this ambition right now, Duckworth provides some steps that can relight your passion and ambition. First, set a clearly defined stretch goal. A stretch goal is something that is currently out of your reach and not something you could achieve in just a few days, weeks, or even years. Ending veterans’ homelessness is an excellent example of a stretch goal, as it has challenged us to rethink traditional approaches and change systems that were in place in the past.
Second, you need full concentration and effort that you can assert on a regular basis. There is some significant research showing that it takes around 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. This number is flexible and unique to the person, skills, and starting point of the individual.
For example, let’s say your stretch goal is to master the theory and skills of the intervention Motivational Interviewing (MI). When you go to your first MI training, it is far from the first hour of your journey. If you have been in the field for a while, you have probably been practicing active listening, empathy, and other approaches that serve as the foundation for MI mastery. Also, you might have a degree or past training in similar methods. So instead of having a journey of 10,000 hours in front of you, you might be halfway there already!
Next is the availability of immediate and informative feedback. Here, quality improvement processes and effective supervision is critical for most of our journeys. If your goal is to master MI, your feedback can be progress on a service plan, increased medical adherence of your client, feedback on a client satisfaction survey, or feedback from a co-worker or supervisor your role-playing MI skills. Any real stretch goal will require measurement towards its achievement.
The final step involves repetition, with reflection and refinement. I warn people in my MI training that they should not expect to become MI masters after one 6-hour training. It takes practice, coaching, and continued learning to achieve mastery in anything, including becoming a great helper. We know that reflection is not possible when we are stressed, or just trying to survive the work.
My challenge to you this week is to think about your ambition, and to set a stretch goal for yourself. Figure out how you will measure progress, get feedback, and practice. It is the season for resolutions, so feel free to use the comment section to share yours with others.