True Banker Grit: How To Get It If You Don't Have It

Human capital

Here at CenterState Bank we have some of the grittiest bankers around. Of course, every bank has them and chances are if you are reading this there is a high probability that you are one as well. Why else would you be clicking on this when you have all that work to do? The answer is likely dedication to the journey of banking and the need to learn from our and other’s triumphs and failures. While Grit has always been in our Nation’s fabric, it has had a recent resurgence when two years ago University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth studied Chicago school children, finding that the foremost predictor of success wasn’t superior test scores, I.Q., athletic ability, good looks or emotional intelligence, but was grit.


As Duckworth puts it, grit is the “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” It is a combination of hard work, dedication, optimism and the willingness to delay gratification in order to achieve a goal in the distant future. One tell-tale trait of those bankers with grit is the discipline of mastery. Most bankers want to be better at their jobs, but few actually have that as a goal and fewer still take concrete steps to reach that goal. Banking is made up of a million tasks, no different than learning a language or perfecting a sport. Banking takes an understanding of the nuances of deposits, asset-liability management, credit, negotiations and so on. The grittiest among us break banking down into a series of skills and set a plan to master each.


One key ingredient in the banking grit puzzle is an unbridled sense of optimism. How else do you make it through the downturn, get beaten up by regulators, struggle with human resource issues, get raked over the coals by the Board and still face the day with the gift of the ability to make a difference. It is optimism that is the fuel for resiliency. For bankers with grit, defeat is always temporary and a setback leads to greater learning.


The skills of banking are all on a continuum. No banker has ever mastered all the skills, and it is the banker with grit that realizes that building a bank is a true journey. The banker that is never content with their last quarter’s performance and not afraid to challenge themselves in order to achieve even greater success is a banker that worships the journey more than the outcome. Bankers that focus on outcomes don’t tend to succeed in the long run.


We know some excellent bankers that excelled in mortgage production or deposit gathering. They built their banks on it and patted themselves on the back for years as they produced outsized performance numbers. Now, few of those bankers are around. Instead of challenging themselves and learning ways fill in their weaknesses they continued to play to their strengths. After 2013, banking changed. To our example, mortgage production was difficult and deposits were not as valuable as they once were. The bankers that continued to adapt are the ones standing today. This is one reason why we believe we are seeing the densest population of the bankers full of grit that the industry has ever seen.  


The better news is that grit is not genetic, but rather it is a learned trait. In children, for example, if you congratulate on how they study instead of how they did on a test, it tends to develop grit. Some tactics lead to more grit than others. We interviewed some of the grittiest bankers we know to come up with the following tactic that may help other bankers develop their “grit potential”:


  1. Have a self-improvement plan: Achievement rarely happens by accident, and if you have a plan for developing your banking skills you are much more likely to develop those skills than without a plan.
  2. Get a mentor: For every skill you wish to develop, find a mentor that excels in the field. He or she can be at another bank or in another industry.
  3. Experiment to Learn: As a bank, you have a whole laboratory to experiment with. Don’t let this go to waste, and strive to find ways to improve the bank while learning new skills. Take small limited risks in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Market different loan structures and deposit marketing tactics until you develop the performance you need.
  4. Get a Big Goal: Pick a major objective for the future that is worth sacrificing for and work towards it. Maybe this is the become Banker of the Year in your state or become one of the named best employers in the area, but the point is to have a stated goal so you can enlist others in the journey and have that journey help push you to a higher performance level.
  5. Break the Goal Down: Whatever Big Goal you pick, break down into a series of milestones so you can achieve them a little at a time.
  6. Enjoy the Concept of Banking: Few industries get to enjoy eight times leverage, government subsidies, public trust and the beauty of lending, relish every moment.
  7. Reassess and Correct: It is rare you learn from your successes, so it is the failures that can add to your “grit reserve” the most. Conduct after-action reviews on major activities (successes and failures) and be honest with yourself on how you and your team can improve.
  8. Remember, it’s the Journey: You can never fail unless you give up. Even if you don’t achieve your Big Goal chances are you have improved. It is incremental improvement, not perfection that is what gritty bankers strive for. If you enjoy and celebrate small success, soon the challenges get easier and you will have more experience to draw your tools from. It may take years, but grit always pays off.