Ali Girard


The overlooked quality necessary to change leadership: grit

As I was cooking dinner a couple of weeks ago I listened to the Freakonomics podcast, How to Get More Grit in Your Life. In the podcast Angela Duckworth defines the concept of “grit”: passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals. She then goes on to describe how it relates to success and how to cultivate it in ourselves. It resonated with me and, after I finished my meal, I left the concept in the realm of personal application.

Now, as my organisation has begun to look toward transitioning the project I’m working on to operations, the idea of grit has resurfaced in my mind – particularly in the context of change leadership. In her Ted Talk, Duckworth says, “grit is living life like it’s a marathon – not a sprint.” Projects are a sprint (sometimes a gruelling one), but operations is a marathon.

Sustaining change is a long-term goal. In order to achieve that long-term goal, we need leaders with grit.

Here are the four traits of gritty people, as identified by Duckworth, and my thoughts on how they apply to change leadership through sustainment:


In the podcast, Duckworth states that in order to become an expert, one must “learn to substitute nuance for novelty.” Organisational leaders get distracted easily, and for good reason – there are often many changes afoot internally and within an industry. We expect another project to pop up as soon as one is completed. Yet, change is only successfully sustained when it is nurtured. A good change leader must maintain interest after “go-live” in order to maintain change.


Practice, specifically deliberate practice, is the act of using feedback to focus on specific techniques that will lead to improvement. Once a change is implemented, we are essentially “practising” that behaviour, process, etc. as often as the organisation requires. That could mean a certain behaviour is enacted every day. Yet, if leaders are not focused on gathering feedback to improve the application of a change, it will stagnate and could backslide. Deliberate practice in the organisational sense is essentially the process of “continuous improvement.” It is the change leader’s responsibility to ensure that it is pursued.


Purpose is about looking beyond the self and seeing how your work is connected to other people. This is key for a good change leader. It is much more likely that you will get recognition for implementing a change than for sustaining it. The satisfaction of working on change sustainment must come from recognising that sustaining the change serves others – whether this is the “greater good” or a direct impact to Becky in the cubicle across the way.


To quote Duckworth, “No matter where you are in your journey, there are going to be potholes and detours and things that might make you think that it’s not worth staying on this path.” Challenges will come up after the project team walks away. The change leader, the one who’s left behind, has to maintain the hope for the organisation – that the change was the right direction, and that it’s worth staying on the path.

I’ve added Duckworth’s new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, to my reading list and can’t wait to discover what other lessons it might contain.

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