A great boss knows just how much to push people. Are you a boss with true grit? And how do you get it right?

“Gritty bosses are driven by the nagging conviction that everything they and their people do could be better if they tried just a little harder or were just a bit more creative,” writes Robert Sutton in Good Boss, Bad Boss.

Such bosses instill grit in subordinates. Without creating the impression that everything is an emergency, great bosses have a sense of urgency. They are dogged and patient, sensing when to press forward and when to be flexible.

As Albert Einstein once stated: “It’s not that I am so smart; it is just that I stay with my problems longer.”

University of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor of Psychology Angela Duckworth, PhD, and her colleagues define grit as perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.

“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress,” they wrote in a 2007 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper.

Without becoming discouraging, bosses with grit believe that progress isn’t always good enough — that you can never stop learning or rest on your laurels.

Small Wins Count

If you set big goals to energize and direct people, you can fall into the trap of overwhelming and discouraging them. In the work I do coaching executives, I see this happen all the time.

The path to success is lined with small wins. When you frame goals as a series of small steps, it  helps people see the importance of their participation.

Smaller goals also help people make better decisions, sustain motivation and manage stress. When subordinates experience a challenge as too big or complex, they can freeze up. When problems are broken down into bite-sized pieces, a boss inspires clarity, calmness and confidence.

The Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you treat work as a marathon or a sprint?
  • Do you look for quick fixes?
  • Do you instill a sense of urgency without treating everything as a crisis?
  • In the face of failures, do you persist or give up?
  • Do you frame what your people need to do as a series of small, realistic and clear steps?
  • Do you propose grand goals?
  • Do you break things down into bite-sized steps?

What do you think about these mindsets? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you.