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“My colleagues, students, alumni, and their families came to the game knowing the team would give the game their all. Our men’s basketball team embodies our definition of grit. We knew the players were bringing both passion and preparation to the game. We knew that they would listen to the guidance of head coach Ryan Odom, support one another, give their individual best, and get tougher and tougher as the game went on.”[1] – Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, speaking after the unprecedented upset of the UMBC Retrievers over the number one Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.

Hrabowski’s assessment of the UMBC Team is a microcosm of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth leverages extensive research to support her premise that perseverance is as important, if not of even greater value, than talent. The College Basketball Power Index ranked UMBC as 156th, while UVA was ranked 2nd – showing a clear and sizable talent gap between the two teams. Yet the Retrievers won the game by 20 points. The “grit” that Hrabowski references includes all the passion, preparation, and toughness the team brought to the court the night of the fateful game and these concepts all deeply resonate in Duckworth’s book.

Duckworth proposes that one does need a baseline of talent for achievement, but it is effort that provides the exponential impact on talent to lead to high levels of achievement.  She lays out the following equation: Talent x Effort = Skill; and Skill x Effort = Achievement. Alongside effort, passion is the other significant element to practicing grit. Duckworth recalls the parable of the three bricklayers. They are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.  When we bring passion to our work, it is easier to apply effort and perseverance to our pursuit.

Grit is a great read for those who struggle with “stick-to-itiveness” or leaders looking for ways to motivate teammates who struggle to live into their full potential.

[1] The Atlantic


As executive director of the Center for Leadership and Innovation, Gib works directly with senior executives in a variety of industries, from construction to wealth management. He brings over three decades of experience in organizational stewardship and cultural development and has an extensive history of helping companies drive rapid growth and instill winning cultures. Gib will be a regular contributor in our new blog series on IT Modernization.

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