Could a Leader's Grit be a predictor of future success?

Eric van Gils, Partner

Anyone who has managed the hiring process for leadership and executive roles understands the challenge we face in trying to predict whether a candidate will ultimately be successful when they join an organisation.

Psychometric tests, behavioural based interviews, real life case studies and panel interviews have traditionally been the tools of choice when assessing new executives but we are all aware that these tools are never 100% accurate at predicting success.

Research by Angela Duckworth ( has established a potentially new predictor of success which could prove to be the basis for a more effective recruitment assessment tool in future.

“Courage and resolve, strength of character”


The Oxford Dictionary's definition of Grit (when it comes to character) is “Courage and resolve, strength of character”. Angela Duckworth expands on this and defines Grit as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”. Duckworth's research attempts to explore why some people who only score relatively average on the usual assessments, and where there is often no indication that they have any talent in a specific area, still perform exceptionally well in the real world.

Conversely we are all aware of people with outstanding intelligence and aptitude (talent) who tend to perform below average when it comes to the actual delivery of results. Duckworth maintains that the achievement of difficult goals requires not only talent, but also the sustained application of talent over time.

Courage : strength in the face of pain or grief

Duckworth has also developed a simple test to establish Grit (see below). My hypothesis is that if we were able to accurately and effectively measure Grit we could perhaps use it as an additional indicator in the hiring decision process to improve our overall ability to predict success in a role.

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz's ( research also supports the theory that Grit is the most accurate predictor of life success and he expands on the theory to say it is not only possible to accurately measure Grit, but that Grit can even be developed. He defines grit as being made up of 4 dimensions : Growth, Resilience, Instinct and Tenacity

As leadership continues to face complex challenges from global warming to bearish commodity prices and globalisation, executives (and organisations) with Grit are going to be best placed to succeed and out perform their competitors.

Perhaps we should be changing our focus from previous experience as a future predictor of success to establishing whether individuals have Grit as the "right stuff" required to succeed.

Further reading :

The key to success? Grit,

How much Grit do you have?

Grit : Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals

The GRIT Institute