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Bonnie Hathcock personifies grit. Her father, who suffered psychological trauma in World War II, abandoned the family when she was three and her brother was six months old. Everything the family owned was re-possessed, “right down to the toys.”

For a lot of people a start like that becomes a reason not to try or an excuse for not doing well. But when Bonnie tells stories about that time in her life, it’s about overcoming obstacles. It’s about being inspired by the people who raised her, by teachers, and by dreams. As she says “We grew up with a lot of love, a good set of values and, above all else, a strong work ethic.”

Those values and work ethic carried her through a distinguished career where she was often the only woman in the room, fighting for things everyone else thought weren’t important in a hard-nosed business. Bonnie recently retired from Humana Inc. where she served as the Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior Vice President. Human Resource Executive named her HR Executive of the Year in 2007. This post grew out of a recent conversation about grit. Here’s Bonnie’s take on grit.


Brains are important, but brains aren’t enough. Ambition gives you drive but lots of people have ambition. When I look back over my career, I remember a lot of smart, talented, ambitious people who didn’t make it. And when I look at the difference between the ones who came out on top and the rest of the pack, I know why.

Grit did it.  


Grit goes through, not around, obstacles. Grit puts one foot in front of the other when times are tough. Grit doesn’t stay in bed when there’s a full day to live. Grit does not opt out.

Grit doesn’t quit.

In this era of gadgets and technology that bring us ease, convenience, and cyber speed, grit has an old-fashioned stuffiness to it. These days, we expect things to be easy.

But much of life isn’t easy.  School isn’t easy. Work isn’t easy. Relationships aren’t easy. Raising children and managing illnesses are not easy. Who said they were supposed to be?

It takes grit.

Backbone. Guts. Fortitude. Spunk.

So, get up out of that bed and go slay some dragons. Go to work when you don’t feel like it. Get on that plane when duty calls. Push through the loss of that divorce and rebuild.

And above all, mix your grit with your dreams.  Abundance and joy will be yours.

Grit.  It always does it.

Wally’s Comment: I asked Bonnie about a personal “grit” experience. I expected a story from her childhood or one about overcoming opposition to get an important idea adopted. Instead she told me about her first year as Vice President of Human Resources at Siemens Rolm Communications.

It was her first HR job. Before that she had worked in marketing and sales. The people in HR had a lot of experience in things like benefits programs and compensation. Understandably, they distrusted a new boss who didn’t know about those things. To make things just a little harder, she was the only woman executive in the room. Every room.

But Peter Pribilla, a top executive at Siemens, had hired her and convinced her to move all the way across the country because he said that she had a heart for people and a head for business. He thought that was just what the HR function needed. So Bonnie dug in to do the job, creating an HR function that supported the company’s strategic goals and developed people for the future. But every day was a battle.

“There were days when I wanted to just quit. But I kept telling myself, ‘Keep going, girl’ and somehow I made it through day after day until we started to have turning points. After that, it got easier.”

For more on grit

From Strategy + Business: Angela Duckworth’s Gritty View of Success
“A psychologist and new MacArthur Fellow says you need employees with stamina and tenacity above all else.”‘

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