The rigors of today’s competitive business climate push even the most seasoned leaders to their limits. No organization is immune to setbacks. Many top business leaders agree that life is a constant string of adversities—the new normal. Some, however, are ill-suited for it and pay a dear price.
Leaders achieve success through their talent, intelligence, flexibility and wisdom. Those who overcome the odds often point to an even more powerful trait: perseverance. Many of today’s top captains of commerce believe it’s the key to winning the race—more important than skill, more vital than past experience, notes management consultant Steve Tobak in What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur? Perseverance (Entrepreneur.com, January 25, 2016).
But what about leaders who lack the necessary stamina? What happens to those who don’t know how they’re going to manage, day in and day out, under the heaviest of loads? Are they simply destined to fail in a cruel world?
The answer is no, according to Dr. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, 2016). Perseverance can be developed from within. If you’re a leader who’s gained a foothold on stamina, you can forge a culture with it.
What Is Perseverance?
More than simply trying hard, perseverance is a gut-generated determination to not give in and never give up. It comes from a spirit that refuses to accept the failure of quitting. A leader who perseveres stands ready to endure for the long haul.
Successful accomplishers are always chasing something greater: goals that are difficult to achieve. They feel they have something to prove—to themselves and/or others. They have direction, know what they want and hate falling short of it.
Leaders with perseverance strive to excel. As Duckworth puts it, perseverance is a satisfaction with being unsatisfied. Dogged leaders continually measure how far they’re willing to push themselves and how much they want to win.
Do you find yourself frequently changing course midstream, altering your goals as you go? Are you prone to disillusionment when things go awry? Do you lose interest in long-term projects? If so, you may lack perseverance. Your organization may consequently lose money, people and direction when situations get tough.
Alternatively, persevering leaders grow their interests and remain focused on them. Their consistent pursuit of gains moves them through the roadblocks that stymie more passive leaders. When you persevere, you’re not as bothered by setbacks or letdowns. You’re motivated to embrace and overcome them.
There are myriad business success stories about leaders who had a persevering spirit and led their companies through crisis, bankruptcy or startup hardship. Steve Jobs and Lee Iacocca had the stamina to save Apple and Chrysler, respectively, from bankruptcy. Jeff Bezos endured the long startup struggle at Amazon. Dan Hesse led Sprint out of the gaping jaws of killer competitors. Not all stories are this dramatic, but the principles of perseverance equally apply. Every company faces trials that call for persevering leaders.
Which Leaders Persevere?
Persevering leaders stand out from the rest and have a significant impact, usually without commanding the limelight or fanfare. Their energy and attitude are distinct—sometimes refreshing, sometimes demanding. They fall into several categories, each one a vital part of an organization’s path through challenging times.
The mature, seasoned leader
Older leaders are generally wiser, steadier, more focused and more familiar with the causes of success or failure. With age comes wisdom, clarity and more discernment over what corrections need to be made at the corporate level.
Mature leaders have greater self-awareness. They know their weaknesses and strengths, and how to fine-tune them for specific circumstances. They’re more diligent about making solid commitments and strive for the highest levels of accountability. They act responsibly and do what’s expected of them. They recognize the need for perseverance.
The leader who loves his/her work
Passion is another key ingredient for success. Blend passion with perseverance, and you’ll reap optimal rewards, Duckworth says. Loving what you do makes you more determined and creative. You’ll experience greater curiosity and challenge yourself to make improvements. If you fuel your passion, you’ll enjoy a stable career, with an even greater platform to contribute.
Leaders with passion for their work generate many ideas, and they’re likely to see them take shape. They persevere through many attempts at achieving success, adjusting along the way.
The disciplined leader
Disciplined leaders are driven to persevere and always apply their best effort, day in and day out. They achieve a great deal, even in tumultuous times. Duckworth’s research on leadership shows effort to be a driving force that’s even more critical than skill. Many people have considerable skills but fail to persevere. The literature is rife with stories of successful leaders who didn’t have the greatest skills, but accomplished the seemingly impossible through valiant effort.
Disciplined leaders want to continuously improve and develop a skill until they’ve mastered it. They’ve learned to withstand defeats because giving up is unacceptable to them. They persevere instead.
The purpose-driven leader
Leaders who establish a purpose for their work experience a calling for what they do. They feel the need to contribute to something bigger than themselves. When their company improves because of their efforts, the results fulfill them. They benefit others, add value and enjoy the outcome.
Leaders driven by purpose don’t view failure as the larger culture does. Failure isn’t to be avoided at all costs, but is a part of learning, with no cause for fear. Perseverance is more attainable when setbacks have no effect on one’s calling. Circumstances may change, but a purpose-driven leader’s calling doesn’t.
The positive leader
Positive leaders know they can improve their circumstances. They envision a better future and wholeheartedly pursue it. They embrace challenges, knowing they’ll learn something significant.
Positive leaders see a benefit in each step taken, even when some are backward. They’re confident that diligent effort pays off, and they persevere through storms because they know there’s sunshine on the other side.
If you’re a leader who struggles with perseverance, you can adjust your mindset and behavior. Perseverance can be learned and mastered if you make the commitment and accept the challenge. Learning means taking one small step to become proficient in the next one. No one can change his or her character in one leap.
If you’re a seasoned leader, take stock of your experiences and draw upon what you’ve learned. Try to be more patient with long-term projects, and reject a rapid-reward mentality. Look back over your career and note what has worked and what hasn’t. Learn from past mistakes, and avoid any plans that resemble past failures.
By reflecting on past setbacks, you can see how your worst fears were probably unjustified. Likewise, future setbacks won’t be fatal, and they offer an opportunity to learn and be better prepared.
You’re better positioned to persevere when you rely on what you know to be true, rather than succumbing to feelings that throw you off course. Focus on facts substantiated by your past.
Enjoy your work
Seek work that makes use of your interests and personality traits. If you have a vivid imagination, find a position that permits you to be creative. If you love people, assume a role that allows you to foster strong relationships. If you’re analytical, take a job solving complex problems. Duties that align with your interests and values will fulfill you.
You can persevere when you love what you do. Not every aspect of your job may be gratifying, but if you enjoy your work, you’re more likely to push yourself when circumstances get tough.
If you lack the discipline to stick to plans, you’ve probably encountered difficulties at work. Failing to stay the course disadvantages you and your people, who depend on you to do what’s best.
Develop a contempt for complacency. Leading people is hard work. There are plenty of needs to address, even in highly effective organizations. Maintaining a well-run company takes discipline, and trying to correct a struggling one takes even more. You can persevere with a disciplined approach to your duties. Keep yourself accountable, perhaps with a trusted colleague who holds you to your tasks, to stay on course. Don’t let yourself give up.
Find your purpose
Many leaders lack purpose and fail to persevere in tough times. Maybe their focus is too narrow. Are you more concerned about your own well-being or the organization as a whole? Are you a limited decision-maker or a grand vision-maker? You have the opportunity to make a significant impact on many levels. Find your purpose there.
If you can’t find a way to love your work, seek ways to love the results. There’s purpose in adding value, making improvements and growing people. By deciding to be the best at something, you can have a calling with great purpose. Fuel your perseverance with this kind of thinking.
A leader with a critical or pessimistic view will never muster the determination to plow through a crisis. If you lack positivity, you probably feel a force dragging you down, without understanding why. Fortunately, this can be addressed.
Become more self-aware, and catch yourself having negative thoughts or moods. Try to determine why you have these feelings, and create positive alternatives. A seasoned leadership coach can be of great benefit. Coaching accentuates the positive and leans toward it. Focus on the ways a situation can work instead of getting mired in negatives.
Foster Perseverance in Others
The best way to help your people persevere is to model optimal behavior. Develop grit and build on it. Use your authority wisely to instill organizational toughness. Developing a culture of perseverance maximizes people’s strengths and pushes them to achieve peak performance. An authoritarian approach is unhelpful, while a coaching, encouraging manner is powerful. Grasp how your leadership style comes across, and adjust to your people’s needs.
Leaders make great strides by helping their people understand that success is an accumulation of many ordinary jobs done well. They push people out of their comfort zones, giving them challenging assignments and timely feedback. Letting staff devise solutions ultimately engages them.
Organizations become persevering machines that weather the strongest storms when leaders build relationships and foster a good work ethic.