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Grit and the Three-Star Recruit

Posted in The Next Level: QuickTakes on LDM

Guest blogger: Stephen Roth is vice president & general counsel of JTV, a national jewelry retailer. The views in this post are his and do not reflect the views of ACC or JTV. He is also vice-chair of the ACC Law Department Management Committee.

Imagine you have an open slot on your legal team. You’ve narrowed the field to two candidates. Both are smart. Both are capable. But there is a difference. One candidate has had a seemingly effortless rise — a “natural” who never seems to break a sweat. The other candidate appears to be a “striver,” who sets and reaches goals, but things haven’t come easy.

Whom do you pick? The answer is obvious, right? The natural. It’s all about talent. We like someone who is willing to work hard. But the natural will leave the striver in the dust every time.

Stephen Roth VP & General Counsel Jewelry Television

Stephen Roth
VP & General Counsel
Jewelry Television

This decision takes me back to a conversation I had a few years ago with a former head trainer for a major college football program. The question was whether to choose a five-star recruit who sailed through his high school games or a three-star player with a strong work ethic. His surprising answer? Take the three-star recruit. He’ll usually outperform.

As it turns out, the trainer was spot on, and his observation was more than a hunch. It’s now backed up by years of research. In Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, social psychologist Angela Duckworth explores the science behind naturals and strivers. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, Duckworth is all about the psychology of achievement. It’s her passion. She has degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Penn, and she has received a MacArthur Genius Grant to boot. In short, she’s a voice worth listening to, which you can now do by clicking on her TED Talk below.

Grit_LDM PostNow let’s get back to my question. Duckworth posits that the striver is usually the best choice. Over time, the striver’s ability will grow beyond that of the natural, who is probably used to succeeding without extra effort.

Why is that? According to Duckworth, it’s because effort counts twice. After a decade of research and writing on the subject, she has reduced her theory to two equations:

  • Talent x effort = skill.
  • Skill x effort = achievement.

Strivers usually end up ahead of naturals because their lives reflect both equations. Strivers put in the extra work because their commitment is fueled by passion. The natural is often content living inside the first equation. In sum, it’s about grit and perseverance. For most of us, consistent effort toward a goal we’re passionate about is the key to high achievement.

So whom do we hire? I’m guessing you know which way I’d go. And if you’re in doubt, just do the math.