The Hard Thing Rule
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“Make yourself a person who handles hard well. Not someone who’s waiting for the easy.”– Kara Lawson
I recently got to know an entrepreneur over coffee. She’d overcome many obstacles on her way to business success. She was an immigrant from a culture that didn’t value her life choices. She’d graduated from MIT and battled her way to leadership on world-renowned engineering teams. Throughout, she relied on her determination and perseverance. Although she would never wish her past challenges on her daughter, she wondered how we could foster grit in our children.
Angela Duckworth provided the answer in her celebrated book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. One of the final chapters is titled, “Parenting for Grit” and it held my favorite takeaway – The Hard Thing Rule.
Duckworth shared that her family followed the “Hard Thing Rule.” Basically, everyone has to pursue something that challenges them. Mom and Dad have theirs. And the kids do too. It comes with two sub-rules. First, you can quit but never in the middle. You have to finish the piano lessons you signed up for. You have to complete the soccer season. Second, each person gets to choose. Grit comes from a combination of passion and perseverance. The choosing part allows everyone to explore and discover their calling.
Wendy and I implemented this in our family soon after reading Duckworth’s book. We played the audiobook for our kids while driving to Disney. We shared our “hard things” and invited our kids to identify their own. Our oldest took up rowing, possibly the ultimate sport for cultivating grit. Our youngest took art and programming classes. I’m pretty sure one or the other pointed out that it was really three rules, but they got on board.
Why talk about parenting in a business newsletter? I’ve learned that great parenting approaches are thinly disguised leadership principles. If you want your people to embrace challenges, you need to normalize challenges.
Recently, Gary and I were reviewing “12 People Mistakes CEOs Make” with a fellow leader. Mistake number 2 is “Not hiring killers.” The leader asked, “How do you hire for that?” Gary’s reply echoed Duckworth. To paraphrase, “killers” can be hired and they can also be made. Test limits. Push to achieve bigger goals, faster. When you regularly challenge your people, you discover the “killers” in your midst. Faced with “hard things,” people grow their skills and their confidence. They get comfortable being uncomfortable.
The best leaders and parents prepare their people for life’s obstacles by consistently ramping up the difficulty. When we make things easy or, worse, do the hard things for them, we do them a double disservice. We deny them the opportunity for growth and we unconsciously signal we don’t believe in their potential.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I become a leader who embraces challenge?
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