The Grit Factor: A book review by Bob Morris

The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience, and Leadership in the Most Male-Dominated Organization in the World
Shannon Huffman Polson
Harvard Business Review Press (September 2010)

How to find “the place where the world needs you most,” where you can be the best possible you

Long ago, I realized that “equal opportunity” means little (if anything) unless it involves equal access to the process by which to become qualified for consideration, whatever the given opportunity may be. I was again reminded of that harsh reality as I began to work my way through Shannon Huffman Polson’s account of the challenges that she encountered — and eventually overcame — in several male-dominated cultures.

I share her high regard for Angela Duckworth and the extensive research she continues to conduct on grit. I also admire Polson for her own grit as well as the grit that countless other women have also developed over the years. Several of them were interviewed by Polson.

As she explains, “I  found I needed more stories of real people who have faced circumstances similar to the challenges I have been facing. I wanted to share stories, particularly of women who are in the minority among their peers and the people they are charged with leading…Though all the women I interviewed for this book have a military background, the stories and insights they share will help anyone facing challenges with little support, whether that’s navigating your way through the seismic change technology brings to so many fields, weathering an acquisition or reorganization, or getting through a difficult period within a project or work environment.”

However different these women may be in most respects, all of them are purpose-driven. They adapt quickly and effectively when in harm’s way, “and often with little support — for their own sake,but also for the sake of those they are leading, whether by official position or by example.”

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Polson’s coverage:

o Introduction (Pages 1-11)
o Why Story Matters, and, The Science of Story (20-24 and
o How to Write — or Reframe — Your Own Story (27-31)
o Purpose Is Bedrock to Grit (38-41)
o The Core Purpose Every Leader Shares (46-52)

o Connecting Your Core Purpose to Your Story (52-57)
o Every Leader Needs Mentors (65-70 and 70-71)
o The Outer Ring (77-80)
o Making the Time to Nurture Your Circle (86-88)
o Listening Isn’t as Easy as It Seems (98-101)

o Three Steps to Listening Like a Leader: Ask. Listen. Pause. (101-109)
o Mindset Is Everything (119-120)
o Building Mental Agility (123-128)
o Staying Focused over the Long Term (133-136)
o Overcome Resistance by Exceeding Expectations (142-145)

o Take Risks (149-152)
o Finding Your Confidence (155-158)
o Growth through Failure (158-163)
o Bridging the Confidence Gap (170-177)
o Using Grit for Good (200-205)

Although presumably this book was written primarily for women,  I think that most of the material (with only minor modification) can also be of substantial value to men who feel inadequate to the challenges they face within or beyond a workplace culture.  At least until the emergence of COVID-19, for example, many men working in a foreign country struggled to succeed despite being “strangers in a strange land.” Granted, they did not face gender-bias but there are always other biases to discourage or intimidate, perhaps even demean them. In this context, I am again reminded of the fact that in ancient Greece, the original meaning of the word “barbarian” was “non-Greek.”

Shannon Huffman Polson urges her reader to “embark on a journey to find the place where the world needs you the most, where you are focuses on applying your ever-evolving toolkit in accordance with your core purpose, aligned with your values, and in service of leaving this planet a little better for your having walked here. When you encounter challenges –as each of us will, repeatedly — remember that when you face into the wind, the resistance will help you to rise.”

Paraphrasing Jack Dempsey, people with grit “get up when they can’t.”


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