Finland, JPMorgan Chase, West Point and the Seattle Seahawks and Grit-Based Cultures

Angela Duckworth has written an absolute must-read book, GRIT – The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  The book describes the key ingredient that leads to success, high achievement and ultimate self-fulfillment. She makes a strong case that having grit might be the most important attribute that leaders have. Part of her book describes how to build a culture of grit and this is worthwhile reading.

Duckworth describes culture as “the shared norms and values of a group of people. In other words, a distinct culture exists anytime a group of people are in consensus about how we do things around here and why”.  Reflecting to grit and culture, the author writes, “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture”. The best way that a manager or non supervisory employee can develop grit is to join a culture with people who possess this most important attribute. “There’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity – the basic human drive to fit in – because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier”.

Duckworth describes the culture of Finland using a Finnish word called sisu. “It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and the fight with the will to win”. She takes two powerful lessons from sisu:

  • “Thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome tremendous adversity often leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception”.
  • “Even if the idea of an actual inner energy source (such as what the Finns believe) is preposterous, the metaphor couldn’t be more apt”.

While sisu has been integral to Finnish culture for centuries, it doesn’t have to take that long to build a company culture based on grit. She writes about Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who has built a culture of grit at the company. Integral to this is how the company’s employees deal with failure. “Failures are going to happen and how you deal with them may be the most important thing in whether you succeed. You need fierce resolve. You need to take responsibility. You call it grit. I call it fortitude”. The key to building a grit-based culture is “relentless – absolutely relentless – communication”. Dimon has created a JPMorgan Chase manual, titled How We Do Business.  It states: “Have a fierce resolve in everything you do. Demonstrate determination, resiliency and tenacity. Do not let temporary setbacks become permanent excuses. Use mistakes and problems as opportunities to get better – not reasons to quit”.

Finnish culture and the grit-based culture of JPMorgan Chase provide examples of successful gritty cultures. Duckworth refers to West Point of a great example of a culture of grit. Lieutenant General Robert Caslen says that “words, even those committed to memory, don’t sustain a culture when they diverge from actions”. Furthermore, “The origin of great leadership begins with the respect of the commander for his subordinates”. Caslen believes that it is important for leaders to lead, not based on fear, but from being on the front lines. “On the battlefield, leading from the front means, quite literally, getting out in front with your soldiers, doing the same hard work and facing the same mortal risks. At West Point, it means treating cadets with unconditional respect and, when they fall short of meeting the academy’s extraordinarily high standards, figuring out the support they need to develop”.

Duckworth has also studied the coaching style of Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. According to Carroll, building a team culture of grit means instilling in all his players the why they compete. He leverages that fact that one player’s grit “can provide a role model for others”.  Mike Gervais, a sports psychologist who partners with Carroll in building the Seahawks’ culture, states that “two key factors promote excellence in individuals and in teams: “deep and rich support and relentless challenge to improve”. Duckworth’s lesson from the Seahawks is “Always compete means Be all you can be, whatever that is for you. Reach for your best”.

GRIT – The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a great read that describes the power of grit as a means of success and high achievement. Duckworth’s research led her to study Finnish culture, JPMorgan Chase, West Point and the Seattle Seahawks as great examples of how to build an organizational culture based on grit.