There is much discussion around the importance of having grit in business, and with good reason. Researcher Angela Duckworth has found that grit is one of the most important predictors of success. Duckworth studied high school students in Chicago and noticed that those with high levels of grit were more likely to graduate than their peers, regardless of their IQ. Furthermore, leading companies like Google have named grit as one of the most important traits they look for in potential candidates. 

But what exactly is grit, and how do we build it? 

Grit, literally defined, is mental toughness and courage. It's the moment you pick yourself up after a failure and try again. It's when you decide not to take the easy way out--when you believe in the possibility of your own success even after facing a setback. 

What if we could view each challenge as a moment that is simply preparing us to handle an even more difficult situation in the future? What if we could see the trials we face not as setbacks but as positive growth opportunities? And what if we could have enough faith in ourselves to trust that success is within reach even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds? 

Many of us do not want to do the hard and uncomfortable work it takes to develop grit. We tend to avoid hardships like the plague. Perhaps we don't meet our sales goals for the quarter so we blame the market, or a colleague tells us our idea is unrealistic so we give it up entirely. But failure and the grit required to push through it are prerequisites to success, and believe me when I say I have dealt with plenty of it in my lifetime. 

Setbacks in business will inevitably arise--maybe your funding falls through or an employee suddenly quits. The question is, are you ready for these setbacks? You can't wait until it's too late to store up your reserves. If you want to lead a successful company, you have to cultivate grit every day.  

But how? 

The formation of grit

In the past, I have handled challenges in three different ways, and I learned that only one of them works to build grit. 

To build grit, you must want to do something challenging. If you don't want to do anything hard, you don't need grit in the first place. However, without experience, getting started might be hard because you lack a clear first step, or maybe you understand the step but feel too scared to even try. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. However, I never joined the school football team. I didn't become a quarterback because I never gave myself the opportunity to try. I didn't make a plan, and I certainly didn't ask for help. Developing grit only starts when you overcome inertia, fear, or anything else holding you back, and you start doing something difficult.

Developing grit also means you can't just try something then quit when it gets hard. In high school, I joined the track team as a pole-vaulter. During one meet, I was asked to run the 400-meter race as a fill-in for someone. When I began running, I was ahead of everyone else, the crowd was cheering my name, and a bright future flashed before my eyes. But then, suddenly, my legs felt like lead. I had never trained for that type of race, and I got scared. I stopped as soon as things became hard, and I never returned to running. We can do the same thing in business. But no company has ever found success without hitting a few bumps in the road along the way. Projects fail and mistakes are made. Will you let each setback derail you? Or will you come back and return stronger than you were before?

To successfully build grit we try, fail, and try again. When I decided I wanted to become more physically fit, I began going to the gym and lifting weights. At first, I couldn't do more than a few reps at a time, the entire experience was a struggle, and many days were uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I kept going back, and each time I did, I promised myself I would add on one more rep. By the time a year had passed, I was significantly stronger. This is how you build grit. You show up every day and do the tough things that might make you uncomfortable because you know the pay-off will be great, and you will be developing an important skill that will serve you the rest of your life. 

David Goggins, ultra-marathoner and author, says, "The only way you gain mental toughness is to do things you're not happy doing." Grit is built every single time you decide to add one more rep to your set, bring up a new idea in a meeting with your boss, or stay the extra hour to perfect a sales pitch. 

My own path to success has not been without its ups and downs. At the first company I worked for, we took plenty of wrong turns due to inexperience--from improper paperwork to financing mistakes to not understanding the ramifications of developing a brand-new business model. The company didn't grow at the rate we had hoped, and I moved on. In my next company, I was promoted to CEO within six months. I took the role despite ample warnings that certain board members might create problems. I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong--I had to resign. In grappling with these failures, I learned invaluable lessons that led me to create the company I am now so honored to lead. Even here, it took many tries to get the business to where it is today. But every time we failed, we stuck with it and tried again even when it was uncomfortable. We evolved, and we built a business that is now recognized as one of the best in the world in our field. 

You have to accept that failure in and of itself doesn't mean anything about the possibility of your success. What matters is whether or not you are able to pick yourself back up and try again. 

How to build grit 

Of course, it isn't reasonable for anyone to purposely create tough situations in order to cultivate grit. So, how can we build grit if we can't practice it until we need it most?

We have to change our mindset. We must be proactive and stop looking to avoid tough situations. Instead, we need to seek them out, identify issues before they blow up, and work to resolve them as early as possible. 

When we stop thinking of problems as things to run from and instead view them as growth opportunities, we will be able to change our entire approach to business. If you need to have a tough conversation with an employee about the quality of their performance, you don't have to view it as a negative, dread-inducing event. Instead, you might think, "I have the opportunity to sit down with this employee and help them grow and succeed at our company." By doing this, you also prevent the situation from getting worse by not letting it fester. 

The more you can address challenging situations early on, the less frightening such problems will be. And when the really tough moments arise, you will be prepared. You will be used to diving in and solving problems, so you won't fret. You'll deal with it, and you won't quit--you now have grit. 

Where success is born 

If you view every problem as an insurmountable obstacle, you will never succeed. Success is born at the moment when your inner voice says you should quit, but you choose to buckle down. It is in the strength to keep at it until you get it right and to push on even when the light at the end of the tunnel is not yet in sight.

As we enter the new year, I encourage you to shift your attitude--the monsters in the dark are not so scary when you bring them out into the light. You can be proactive and change your outcomes, but only if you face your fears and failures with courage, fortitude, and, of course, a lot of grit.