I’ve just watched Michigan State University’s basketball team beat Louisville to reach the Final Four, as they continue to follow an unlikely path through the NCAA tournament. If you follow college basketball religiously — or simply get caught up in the excitement as I do — you’ll note that surprise outcomes occur quite regularly.
That’s really why I watch. I always root for the underdog. In this case, it was my Alma Mater.
As it turns out, they didn’t need my help.
A few key elements are usually present in these upsets. In this case, a fantastic combination of youth, talent and exquisitely seasoned coaching. However, there is another secret ingredient that psychologists have been observing, that likely played a role — grit.
Grit can take a solid competitor and transform them into a warrior. (Leaders that can stoke grit likely have the ability to do the same in the workplace.) In this classic research, Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, explored the attitudes and conditions that contributed to achieving valued outcomes. What became evident was that talent is not always enough — perseverance was also required. (See her TED Talk here.)
When I watched the reaction of the players as the final buzzer sounded, it was clear they knew that had done something extraordinary. They had met a Goliath and pulled through, again.
I do realize that Michigan State’s path may end here — as they face Duke in the next match-up. However, this matters little.
With a hefty dose of grit, they’ve already met their true potential on that court.
That is a win in itself.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.
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