I remember considering the meaning of “grit” deeply for the first time while competing in my first Spartan endurance obstacle course race. Spartan’s founder and CEO, best-selling author Joe De Sena considers grit to be a guiding life principle.
In the months leading up to my first Spartan race, I trained intensely before dawn and ran trails on the weekends. As a non-athlete, I knew nothing about the race. I read about other racers’ experiences and watched YouTube videos to try to learn how to conquer each obstacle. I even hung a rope from a tree in my backyard and taught myself to climb it. Finally, my race day arrived. I was anxious and nervous. I had read about racers that had died, or gotten sick or injured on the course.
I still remember my visceral feeling of disgust staring down the dunk wall obstacle. I had to wade neck-deep into a ditch—a muddy soup with a wall in the middle—and hold my breath as I passed underneath the wall in the stinking, brown stew to emerge on the other side.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first Spartan race and the whole process leading up to it. I went on to compete in five more since then. I tried to apply the lessons I took from Spartan to my relationships, business, life and of course — my chosen profession, capture management.
What is Grit?
Wanting to delve deeper into the topic, I read “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. The book helped me better understand grit and why it is so often the X factor that separates successful capture managers from the rest.
First, what is Grit? Duckworth defines it as “a tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” and also as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.”
The first point is that your innate talents —the ones you are born with— do not define your destiny. We tend to have beliefs that some talents e.g. singing ability or a mind for mathematics, are gifts, which we either have or don’t have. Not true. With a growth mindset, it is possible to develop any skill and achieve mastery in it. Duckworth has a formula for achievement.
Capture is most definitely a skill, even though it may seem that some capture managers are inherently more “gifted” than others. They win everything they touch. They are always the “go-to” capture manager requested to lead all of your company’s strategic deals.
The Formula for Becoming a Rockstar Capture Manager
(Hint: It’s exactly the same formula.)
Talent x effort = skill
Skill x effort = achievement
No one was born a capture manager. Even rockstar capture managers still had to develop and refine their capture skills through effort — specific training in all the tools, techniques and methodologies relating to capture.
Then more importantly, they had to actually do the work and lead challenging, strategic capture efforts repeatedly over multiple years, while learning more and improving over time.
Rockstars also had to rely heavily upon mentors and team members with expertise in capture-enabling functions like proposal management, proposal writing, pricing strategy, staffing, competitive intelligence, business development, contracts and subcontracts, etc., to hone their skills. They also had to invest in understanding deeply how each of these enabling functions work in practice, or rise up the ranks to capture by being practitioners of these other skills.
Duckworth talks about the necessity of both passion AND perseverance to have grit. Capture managers understand well that if you want to win, you have to get gritty. Never, ever say “good enough.” Even if you have a setback, stay optimistic, get back in there and fight. There is always another route you can take and always more you can do to position your capture for a win.
Find Your Calling – the Power of Having a Purpose
In her book Duckworth re-tells the parable of the bricklayers, which demonstrates the power of having a greater purpose for your life’s work.
In the parable of the bricklayers cited by Duckworth, 3 bricklayers are asked the question: “What are you doing?” One says: “I am laying bricks.” The second says: “I am building a church.” The third says: “I am building the house of God.”
In this parable, Duckworth calls the 1st bricklayer’s answer – a job, the 2nd- a career, and the 3rd – a calling. If you view capture as a calling, rather than a job or career — it transforms everything. Consider this:
Job: “I am running the XYZ capture for Agency ABC”
Career: “I am focused on winning the XYZ opportunity with Agency ABC for my company”
Calling “I am creating jobs that are the lifeblood of my company and I support the critical work of our Nation and its allies”
Notice how that mental shift deepens your purpose and clarifies your path.
Successful capture managers need grit. They need to have that purpose to keep going year after year. They need that “Never, ever quit” attitude to be tenacious and focused. That does not mean, you blindly chase after Un-winnable opportunities. It means that you stay laser-focused on winning the opportunities you should be winning.
I cannot think of a single person I have encountered who wants less grit. We are capture managers —achieving something great as a team in the face of adversity is the stuff for which we live!
Call to Action
While Spartan racing may not be your go-to choice for developing and enhancing grit, pursuing grit in life, business and relationships in whatever form speaks to you will surely make your day-to-day grind feel easier and more fulfilling.
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