“Grit, the raw endurance, perseverance, and passion that keeps you going despite obstacles.” Anonymous
“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done. No moral man can have peace of mind if he leaves undone what he knows he should have done.” John Wayne
After reading the book ENDURANCE about the truly incredible story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica in 1914, I am reminded of the leadership attributes of fortitude, perseverance, courage and commitment-true grit. The book chronicles the voyage of a captain and a crew of 28 men who set sail from England to be the first to land on Antarctica and cross the continent on foot to the other coast. The expedition meets with adversity when the ship becomes engulfed in floating sea ice that thwarts their arrival on land. For the next two years, the captain and his crew endure every conceivable threat to their survival from exposure, starvation, and depression to finally break free from the ice and plot a course to safety. Through a culture of disciplined routine, impeccable planning/decision making, mutual trust, and work ethic, EVERYONE survives the two-year long odyssey. My take away from this story is that mental and physical toughness held this team together and it was the true grit of the leader that inspired it!
I believe today, over 100 years later, most leaders don’t possess this “true grit” because it is no longer emphasized in our homes, schools, communities or workplaces. We have become a soft, self-centered, impatient society ready to cut and run at the first signs of adversity or discomfort; instead of bowing up to the challenge, determining a new course of action and rolling up the sleeves to get after it, we submit to blaming others for our misfortune and believing we are victims unable to change the direction of our organization. This lack of resilience from the leadership is a contagion that rapidly moves through every level of the team. Instead of being tough, committed and courageous, we fall into the trap of complacency, pessimism, and minimum effort. Most likely, standards are lowered and the team falls onto a slippery slope of self-pity and waning performance. If you’ve been in an organization like this, you know this is a recipe for failure.
So, if you’re wondering where, when, and how people learn and develop this “true grit”, I suggest it starts early in the formative years with one’s family and reinforced over a lifetime pursuit of daily excellence. The ingredients of grit and toughness are acquired through the learned attributes of discipline, regimen, responsibility, accountability, resilience, work ethic, perseverance, determination, and fortitude developed first at home. Parenting is the most important leadership position we will ever hold. We are responsible for developing the next generation of leaders. Many times we interchange care and love with coddling. Coddling is the act of doing something for individuals who should do the task for themselves. By making the child or young adult do for themselves, the seeds of self-reliance and resilience are planted. Coddling only acts to relieve the person of their sense of ownership for the outcome of their actions and makes them less likely to put the effort necessary to adapt and overcome obstacles. This leads to an “entitled” society where the terms earned and deserved are erroneously used interchangeably. Today, average performance or just showing up ‘deserves” a medal. No one deserves anything unless it was truly earned through daily diligence and excellence.
A strong foundation developed in the early years is only the beginning of the journey to true grit. Through a whole host of pursuits including education, athletics, careers, and community activity, we are continually challenged to adapt and overcome adversity by developing mental, physical, and spiritual toughness. This development doesn’t end at a certain age and should be the fire that burns inside our bellies throughout our lives.
We should also seek inspiration from leaders that have endured great adversity and challenges in their personal and professional lives. Many of them are in your organization or companies you do business with. Others are made famous by books written about them, like Sir Ernest Shackleton. Lastly, I would reach out to our nation’s greatest wealth of true grit -- our military veterans and first responders. By and large, these individuals have been placed in austere and dire situations where credible leadership is the only way their team thrived and survived. Most, if not all, will tell you that the courage and commitment of their leader was the most important ingredient to their success.
Mental, physical, and spiritual toughness doesn’t happen overnightbut rather it’s a lifetime pursuit forged over many trials, tribulations, and failures. Only those that continually get back on their feet and recommit to daily excellence find more success than discontent. No quit-true grit is the epitome of the human spirit. It’s time to come back to our roots.
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