Grit seems to be the new “it” thing. Much has been written and discussed on the benefit of having such strength of character, courage, backbone and the like. I agree in its truest form, a feisty and dogged determination can serve a leader well, or anyone for that matter.

However, when a person who has a forked tongue and sharp elbows masks their poor behavior behind the veil of grit, I become alarmed, and I am seeing that more and more. It is not great if it leaves a debris field in its wake.

Leadership is about getting things done through others. It sometimes necessitates that you encourage your team to push through barriers and overcome obstacles. That is where grit can be of benefit. But, when pushing become pushiness and empathy and common decency are absent, you might get through that barrier and overcome that obstacle, but you are going to run straight into a wall.

There is a real risk in confusing poor leadership as grit. It’s people who grow organizations, who create change, make progress and deliver results. If you look past your people and only at the finish line, you will soon be standing alone.

So, when is grit great, when it’s collaborative, unifying and inclusive. Maybe we should call it “group grit”. The example that comes to mind occurred in 1989 when 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell and became trapped in an abandoned well. First responders, drillers, the entire town were all tireless in their efforts and absolutely determined to save that little girl.

We are fascinated by innovation and invention. We applaud those who are disruptors who question the norms and challenge our institutions. But, there is a way of doing it that moves us forward and a way that drags us back.

Effective change requires buy-in, acceptance. You can’t force sustainable change by dragging people forward, scraping their knees and leaving them bloodied and battered in the process. That’s not grit.

Change, innovation, and creation should advance everyone and that takes good communication. Unifying around a common purpose and a shared vision is what creates the environment that allows “group grit” to flourish. It should rally people, encourage them to participate in the change. It should be a force that brings people together. In addition to getting things done through others, leaders have the responsibility to help those that they lead grow and develop.

I am all for grit. I’ve had the fortune of working with organizations that were the embodiment of the term. We fought hard, celebrated our victories and weathered our losses together. That “group grit” took us further, made us better, and gave us a leg up on our competition.

Yet, I am fearful that by encouraging grit, we’ve begun to endorse bad behavior. There is no excuse for treating people poorly. It’s important to have passion, determination, and courage. But, there is a check and balance to that drive, and it’s the way in which its manifestation impacts others. Don’t mistake a forked tongue and sharp elbows for grit, that’s just bad behavior. That is just being a bully.

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