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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

Leadership Superpower: Perseverance

Although it's rarely mentioned in a list of leadership competencies, nor listed on a performance review, the ability to persevere - to be steady and persistent despite difficulties, obstacles or discouragement - is critical to leadership success. It is perseverance that propels leaders and their teams past pitfalls, missteps and outright failures.

Insightful leaders understand the importance of perseverance for their own success and the success of others. They incorporating a "spirit of persistence" in their cultures. What does perseverance entail?

  1. Clear Direction Individuals and teams who are clear on their purpose are less likely to be side-tracked. Teams that regularly set goals and make action plans are far likelier to stay focused and avoid distractions and detours. Articulating the goal frequently and updating the action plans to reflect experience are all a part of staying on course.

2. Self-Discipline This is the ability to be self-driven and to stay with a task or project.

It entails steps both large and small that move toward the goal, that show progress.

Self-discipline is not making or accepting excuses. As Angela Duckworth has noted in

her book, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance," "perseverance is a satis-

faction with being unsatisfied."

3. Holding Steady In their book, "Leadership Without Easy Answers," Ron Heifitz and

Marty Linsky define holding steady as an essential skill for staying alive in the heat of

the action and keeping people focused on the work. It is the way in which a leader

does not give in to chaos, is not tempted by hyper-emotions and demonstrates


4. Optimism This has everything to do with self-confidence, confidence in the team,

and maintaining a positive outlook. This is the fuel for propelling people forward and

seeing obstacles more as challenges that can and will be overcome than as

insurmountable roadblocks. As Albert Einstein said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just

that I stay with problems longer."

5. Attitude Toward Failure Leaders who persevere often see failure as an

opportunity for individual or team learning and growth. Rather than allowing the

setback to taint their expectations for future success, they look for ways to convert the

failure to learning, and to apply that learning to making improvements in future efforts.

Consider this quote by Calvin Coolidge, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful (men) with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Perseverance can be viewed as a leadership superpower: a key to moving through inevitable difficulties and setbacks, a key to moving forward. Press on!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you experienced times in your work experience where your team encountered setbacks? How did you react? How did the team react?

  2. Describe a culture with a "spirit of persistence."

  3. Discuss the idea of "holding steady." What does that mean to you? Describe your experiences with leaders that did or did not hold steady. What was the result?

  4. Optimism is not Pollyanna-like disregard for the seriousness of a situation. It is a viewpoint that things will improve, that people will succeed, that lessons will be learned. From your experience, what is the effect on this viewpoint on a team?

  5. Consider the Calvin Coolidge quote. Do you agree that nothing, not even talent, genius, or education, can take the place of persistence?

  6. What are the implications of this for leaders? For you?

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