Recently I read a great article by Paul Tough in the “New York Times Magazine” entitled, “The Character Test.” The lead-in to the article posed the question: “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” This question really grabbed me as we often teach the value of “failure” in our leadership programs. How valuable are the lessons and insights that come from failing? As they say in the MasterCard commercials: Priceless!

The article shared the story of Dominic Randolph and David Levin, both innovative educators in the New York City area. Randolph and Levin joined forces to explore the role that character plays in predicting future success and development. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania had developed a list of 24 character strengths and virtues, which the educators wanted to put into action within their schools. Working with a team from Penn they narrowed the list down to seven character strengths that were strongly correlated to achievement and fulfillment – Zest, Grit, Self-control, Social Intelligence, Gratitude, Optimism, and Curiosity. As I considered the list of traits I was reminded of Daniel Goleman’s work in Emotional Intelligence. Certainly self-control and social intelligence are now seen as critical leadership competencies, thanks to his work. The other traits are not the usual leadership competencies that we see in standard models and HR literature, yet they are all components of what most of us would consider to be characteristics of a highly engaged and effective leader. In addition to competencies such as Vision, Risk-taking, Decision-making, Recognition, and Developing People, consider these aspects of leadership as you develop the people who will lead your organization into the future, and as you develop yourself for your journey ahead:

  • Zest – actively contributes and participates in discussions; possesses drive and energy
  • Gratitude – acknowledges and appreciates contributions of others; sees beyond one’s own interests
  • Optimism – envisions positive outcomes; is undeterred by setbacks
  • Curiosity – questions and challenges current thinking; is eager to explore new things
  • Grit – “stick-to-itiveness”; perseverance and passion for long-term goals; the ability to sustain effort in the face of adversity; maintaining consistency and focus of interests over time; dedication to achieving goals

To assess your level of grit, take the Grit Scale here: 17-item Grit and Ambition Scale

Read the article here: What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?

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