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Review: Grit to Great by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

gritThis review first ran in the Oct. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion and Pluck Take You From Ordinary to Extraordinary

By Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Crown Business


Do your kids a favour.

Stop telling them they’re special.

Your pride and joy won’t always be the smartest kids in the room and they’ll eventually slam into a problem they can’t solve on autopilot. Will they rise to the challenge or run away?

Start doing this instead. Praise your kids for their hard work and hustle. Notice when they’re grinding it out and going the extra mile. Encourage your kids to be the ones who are never outworked.

And put away the bubble wrap. Quit shielding your kids from disappointment, rejection and failure. Your kids, and their future employers, will thank you.

A little failure goes a long way to building grit and grit’s the best gift we can give our kids, say Brooklyn-born authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval and co-founders of an award-winning ad agency. “Emerging research suggests that there is far more to success in life than a country club pedigree or natural ability and sheer talent. Passion and perseverance matter more than talent or intelligence when it comes to being successful. Taking the measure of a person’s grit is a more accurate barometer of how successful he or she will be than any report card or resume.”

So what’s grit? Kaplan Thaler and Koval say it’s about sweat and character rather than swagger and charisma.

“Grit is the hard-fought struggle, a willingness to take risks, a strong sense of determination, working relentlessly toward a goal, taking challenges in stride, and having the passion and perseverance to accomplish difficult things, even if you are wallowing in the most difficult circumstances.”

You get grit by being courageous, resilient, tenacious and a self-starter. Most of us stand around saying something should be done. The gritty few step up and get it done without fanfare.

Grit’s a scarce commodity in our confidence-boosting Age of Self-Esteem. Every kid gets a trophy while all the grown-ups meet or exceed expectations on their annual performance reviews.  We visualize being a success without focusing on the years of slogging, sacrifices and setbacks required to get to the top of our game.

The good news is that grit can be learned and it’s age agnostic.

Kaplan Thaler and Koval offer up dozens of grit builders.  Be willing to go the extra 30 minutes every day. “You’d be surprised at the edge you can develop by applying yourself for an extra half hour on something – a goal, a skill, a job. A half hour each day adds up to 180 hours of extra practice a year.”

Quit following your dreams and instead set a specific goal, come up with a game plan and start moving the yardsticks with small wins. “While the dreamers are still sleeping, the doers are taking victory laps, because they had the sense to wake up and get to work. They put themselves in a grit state of mind.”

For added inspiration, Kaplan Thaler and Koval profile ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things thanks to grit. They show what you can achieve through the virtue of hard work and resilience.

“Grit is the great equalizer in life, because anyone, at any time, whatever their background or resources, can lay claim to it. It’s been proven time and again that those individuals who relentlessly and passionately summon their inner fortitude when things get tough and scary; who tirelessly turn defeat into victory thanks to their resilience; who turn roadblocks into initiatives; and hold on with the fierce tenacity of a mother tiger to her cubs, are the true winners in life.”

Review: Ron Clark’s Move Your Bus – An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life

move your busThis review was first published in the Oct. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Move Your Bus: An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life

By Ron Clark



To the runners go the spoils.

Picture your organization as a bus straight out of the Flintstones. Powering your Bedrock Express are four kinds of employees – runners, joggers, walkers and riders.

Runners are your high performers who consistently go above and beyond for the good of your organization. “Within every type of organization, it is the runners who provide the locomotion,” says Ron Clark, an award-winning teacher, author and consultant.

Joggers are solid, if unspectacular. They can pick up their game if needed but not at the same intensity or the same duration as runners.

Walkers mail it in. “They plod and stumble and don’t even keep up with the joggers,” says Clark. Walkers constantly criticize and complain in a bid to deflect attention away from their lackluster performance.

Riders are dead weight.  “Riders do not care about the overall success of the organization. In fact, they don’t even care about their own personal success,” says Clark. The only thing riders bring to their job is a sense of entitlement.

Your leader drives the bus. To make the wheels on the bus go round and round, she needs to get the best from everyone on board.

If you want your bus to fly, focus first on your runners and allow them to shine. “Having runners maintain their speed is far more beneficial than having one rider drop her feet and begin to walk,” says Clark. “Instead of putting so much of our effort in rehabilitating our riders, perhaps we should throw all we have to our runners, for that is what truly moves the bus.”

Treat employees fairly but don’t treat them equally. “You all aren’t equal,” Clark would tell your employees. “Some are working much harder and contributing much more, and those are the individuals who deserve more.”

Giving the lion’s share of promotions, plum assignments,  bonuses and perks to your runners can be a tough sell. What should you say to anyone who cries foul?

“If you grew up receiving a trophy just for playing on the team, let me give you a reality check,” says Clark. “That will not happen in the workplace. This is capitalism, not socialism. You have to do more than just show up to be rewarded. Please, be grateful for your job.  Be thankful to be a part of a team. Work to earn actual recognition and praise because nothing is promised to you.”

Clark recommends cutting your runners some slack. They’re going to make mistakes. They’ll likely make more mistakes than all your joggers, walkers and riders combined because runners take on more work and tackle bigger challenges.

You can also make life easier for your runners by assigning low value grunt work to walkers and riders.

Coddle your joggers who lack a runner’s self-confidence. “Praise and recognition go a long way with joggers,” says Clark. “If you can give them that extra affirmation that they’re going in the right direction, they’re going to go faster.”

With walkers and riders, set clear expectations.  “In some cases, if you can demonstrate a more effective way of doing things, a walker is going to move faster for you. Some of them probably have potential, while others may not. You have to weigh the effort it will take to get them to pick up their feet and then decide if your time and energy would be best used elsewhere.”

Clark offers practical advice for joggers, walkers and riders looking to join the ranks of runners. Strengthen your work ethic. Learn how to accept criticism. Listen more than you talk. Get to work and meetings early. Exude a sense of urgency. And lose the sense of entitlement.

“Every single person within an organization has a contribution to make,” says Clark. “It doesn’t matter what job you were hired to do – your contribution matters. You can always find a way to contribute at a higher level and do a better job, even if you were hired to clean the windshield or put air in the tires of the bus.”