A Game for the Ages
Dateline: January 18, 2015 – It was 1st and 10 at the 35 yard-line for the Seattle Seahawks in a tied game, 22-22 against the Green Bay Packers. The game was in overtime–tied at the end of regulation due to a furious comeback by Seattle in the 4th quarter. It was a complete miracle that the Seahawks were even in overtime given that they had trailed 19-7 in the 4th quarter with 5:07 to play. Stat Geeks would later report that with 5 minutes to go, the Seahawks had only a .70 (less than 1%) chance of winning the game. At the 3:07 mark the chances had slimmed to .10–meaning Green Bay had a 99.9% chance of winning the game. Through a series of unbelievable plays by the Seahawks including two goal line stands, a fake field goal that scored a touchdown, a recovery of an onside kick (which has a success rate of only 20%), and an incredible 2 point conversion–somehow some way Seattle found themselves tied at the end of the 4th and heading into overtime.
The Seahawks would win the coin toss and then on the sixth play in OT this would happen…the power of grit in action!
Game over: Seahawks win 28-22.
A Front Row Seat to History
I happened to be on the field that day, in Seattle, working the chains with the NFL Officiating Crew. So I had a front-seat to take in one of the best games in NFL history. Not only was the game an all-timer, but in hindsight there were important lessons to be learned from this game that are easily transferable to the world of professional recruiting.
The stakes for the Seahwaks and Packers were gargantuan–a chance to play in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona. So, obviously this wasn’t just ‘any’ NFL game. The Seahawks were coming off winning Super Bowl XLVIII and, therefore, trying to orbit in the rarefied air of NFL teams that have repeated as world champs (only 8 teams in NFL history have achieved this historic task).
In the first half Seahawk QB Russell Wilson had struggled mightily against a very stout Packers defense. Wilson, known for protecting the ball and rarely turning it over, threw three picks in the 1st half. In the 2nd half things didn’t go a whole lot better (until the end). Wilson threw another interception in the 4th with 5:13 to play. Every interception had one receiver on the other end being targeted: Jermaine Kearse. Prior to the game-ending 35-yard pass reception for a touchdown Kearse didn’t have a catch and 4 of Wilson’s INT’s had been going Kearse’s way. Indeed there was reason for the home team to be incredibly frustrated on this particular Sunday in Seattle. It clearly would have been acceptable to come to conclusion that winning the game just wasn’t in the cards. But that wouldn’t be the Seahawks way.
NFL Games Hard to Predict
Football is a tricky game and so the analysts and ‘experts’ often spend an inordinate amount of time pontificating about who ‘should’ bear the blame when interceptions/turnovers occur. Some will say it’s mostly the quarterback’s fault, while others will say that receivers should do whatever they have to in order to prevent defenders from getting the ball. It’s one of those arguments that will never be truly ‘solved.’
Nevertheless, the Seahawk offense had endured a very rough game and the story was beginning to take shape that the defending Super Bowl champs weren’t going to make it to back to back Super Bowls. Given all of the setbacks in the game, Seattle never gave up, stayed the course, and kept believing they could to win the game.
Given the opportunity to analyze an incredible game like this a few questions come to mind:
- How does a professional sports team continue to persevere and ultimately ‘win’ despite having so many things go wrong?
- Isn’t it human nature to let the reality set in that, “Today just isn’t our day” or “We’ll get ’em next time”? How does one stay mentally sharp under these circumstances?
- What factors could be involved in describing what it took to mentally and psychologically stay in the game and continue to work hard, compete, and ultimately win?
The Power of ‘Grit’
Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania has been studying a concept that might be helpful as we think about the characteristics of the Seattle Seahawk team. The concept? Grit. At the Duckworth Lab, at Penn, Dr. Duckworth focuses on how to predict achievement and “Grit” is a pivotal factor in her research. Duckworth defines grit as: a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. If we break it down to two words: passion and perseverance.
Duckworth has met Coach Carroll and the Seahawks team and concurs that as a team they embody “Grit” very successfully. In the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era they have filled their rosters with undrafted free agents that weren’t highly touted and have often been passed over. The result is these players are often obsessed with proving themselves and are adept at bouncing back from adversity. These types of players have the proverbial ‘chip on their shoulder’, which it turns out, can be very helpful when your team is down 19-7 in the 4th quarter of an NFL NFC Championship Game.
Perhaps in professional recruiting it would be a good idea to embrace tough challenges and relish the opportunity to help solidify ‘tough to fill’ positions? Might it also be beneficial for companies you are working for to be able to easily identify your passion and perseverance for helping them connect the right people with the right opportunities?
Recruiters Need ‘Grit’ to Be at their Best
The need to possess Grit (dedication and determination) is also a trait that Recruiters desperately need. One of Crelate’s early adopters was Shannon Anderson of Seattle, WA. Shannon has been in the business of talent acquisition for over 25 years, including 14 years where she built recruiting and sourcing teams for a large corporation at Microsoft and for start-ups with Ignition Partners Venture Capital. She also founded two executive search firms and partnered with Google and Amazon in their emerging growth years to build out their technical executive ranks. Now she is a principal for Recruiting Toolbox, a training and consulting firm teaching companies how to recruit and interview better. There is no question that over the years Shannon’s passion and perseverance have been tested.
Recently I was chatting with Shannon and I asked her to relay an instance in which she needed to muster ‘Grit” and she told me an interesting story. When she was recruiting for Google there was a very difficult job to fill that she worked on for over a year. The position required a very narrow set of skills in a niche area. Also, Google was seeking a diverse candidate who needed to match the demographics of the market. This would prove to be a challenge for sure.
After months of research and talking to hundreds of folks, the ‘right person (or should I say unicorn) for the job’ was finally identified. After trying every trick in the “Recruiting Playbook” Shannon could not get the candidate to respond at all. Finally, she found one of his former professors who had been retired for 20 years. Shannon asked him about his former student, what motivated him, what he knew about a potential career path, and reasons he might be interested in making a career change.
The Power of Grit
The Professor showed a little grit of his own and was able to locate a 10-year old Christmas card and, therefore, provide Shannon legitimate contact information (which lead to a correct phone number and email). At long last she was able to connect with the guy who exclaimed, “Wow, you must REALLY want to talk to me!” After a few discussions it was determined that his career aspirations were not in alignment with the Google job, so ultimately Shannon didn’t get a hire. However, the moral of the story is Shannon felt incredibly proud of her efforts and the grit and tenacity it took to pursue this candidate for over a year in an effort to fill a vital position for Google. Displaying this kind of grit will no doubt pay off in the long run and given Shannon’s impressive bio it’s obvious that her grit has helped her be incredibly successful in recruiting.
Furthermore, having gone through this kind of adversity made Shannon even more effective in future recruiting efforts and likely helped her gain the respect of Google. Passion and perseverance are ‘verbs’–something you have to practice and do on a routine basis. In the Seahawks case their grit earned them a trip to a Super Bowl. In Shannon’s circumstance it aided in her professional development and helped build her tenacity.
Shannon’s final comment was telling, “I think I’ve been doing this so long that I don’t realize that some of the stuff I’ve done shows real grit; it just sometimes seems so normal to me that almost every hire I make has some element of grit involved in getting it to the starting line or over the finish line! This is normal for a lot of recruiters, maybe that’s the story.” Indeed, it is.
Just like the Seattle Seahawks showed their true passion, perseverance, and grit on a blustery Sunday in January and won a game that will go down in NFL history as one of the all-time great games–recruiters should think about ways to identify and model grit in all of their professional endeavors. It was a privilege to witness the power of grit on championship Sunday from the Seahawks. Definitely a day I will never forget. It’s also cool to talk to recruiters and see how they embody grit and leverage it in their daily work lives. Professional recruiting is a competitive gig and so having grit could be a real separator between being successful or not.
Want to see where you stack up on the Grit Scale? Take the Grit Survey to find out.
The beautiful 3D Lytro photos included are from Seattle-based photographer Michael Sternoff. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @mikesternoff. Also, on the audio call of the last play was Kevin Harlan via Westwood One Sports. Thanks also to Shannon Anderson (@ShannAnder on Twitter) for providing a compelling example of the “Power of Grit”!