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Field Notes on Leadership: Resiliency & Grit

Field Notes on Leadership: Resiliency & Grit

by: Christine Watkins Davies
December 2017

What is resiliency and grit?  I define them as having the ability and capacity to recover quickly from challenges with a bit of toughness.  Even in the face of adversity, someone who is resilient and has a bit of grit overcomes obstacles others may not have thought possible.

There is no way to lead others gracefully 100% of the time.  Physics prove that on a daily basis.  We stumble, we are challenged, we are anxious, we are stressed, and we fail at times.  If leadership were simple, everyone would put themselves in a leadership role.  However, it is my belief that the greatest leaders exhibit a tremendous amount of resiliency and grit and these leaders are the ones to follow.  They’ve proven they can continue to lead even in the face of adversity.   Who else would you want to follow?

I interviewed several leaders who shared their experiences with resiliency and grit and a few consistent factors emerged in all of the interviews: the need for support and trust within your organization, authenticity, community and support (within the organization or outside of the organization), and the awareness and ability to let go of things.

A leader may be in the position to lead, however s/he is stronger when there are many others supporting and leading as well.  One leader shared, “Every leader often wonders how they’re going to keep leading at some point.  Not just after one big blow, but after many blows.  You begin to wonder how you’ll keep going and how you’ll keep your people going.  It’s the power of community, shared hardships and trust that’s built in that.”

And how can we create that powerful community as leaders? Authenticity.  Leaders who are able to discern when and how to be authentic are oftentimes the most trusted.  They gain followership by sharing enough of the hardship to keep people informed.  One leader stated, “A lot of leaders are thickening the social fabric of the organization.  Part of that is through authenticity and connecting through our humanity.”  When a leader shares their human side, others will follow that lead and true connection and support emerges. Transparency is believability and people want to support leaders whom they trust and believe.  Another leader shared, “If you’re not authentic, you run out of energy pretending.  Then, the system becomes fragile.  With a high level of trust, you lose the need to pretend.  There should be intention around building trust and community in order to become authentic.”

Community and support are essential in leadership.  Some leaders find support within the organization with close colleagues, mentors, or advocates.  Others rely on support outside of the organization with an outside coach, therapist, social or spiritual network, or family member.  One leader explained, “The more we can foster peer-to-peer support systems, the more hardy and robust the system will be.”   After facing adversity and challenge in his leadership role, one leader shared that the support he received from others was essential.  “I really felt carried by people, and I have so much more empathy now.  I could never have had it before.”

Another factor in resiliency in leadership is trusting the recognition that it’s time to let something go.  “Knowing when to quit is a huge part of grit.  You need to know how to give up. You can’t always return to where you started from.  That place may not exist anymore.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go of what was, but it’s important to know when to say yes to the life that is and let go of the life that was.”

As a leader, I would like to challenge you with the following questions:

  • How are you doing with resilience and grit?
  • When faced with challenges, are you able to withstand the challenge and emerge stronger?
  • How are you doing with being authentic?
  • Are you fostering a work environment that is supports a trusting peer to peer connection?
  • Are you seeking the support that you need?
  • Looking toward 2018, what shifts or changes can you make in your leadership to become more resilient?