Leadership Essentials: Grit
Advertising agencies are paid to produce. While ad agencies mark every commercial, magazine page, billboard, and storefront window, few campaigns have the kind of success that marks our lives. One such campaign was launched in 1988 by global marketing exec Dan Wieden. You likely don’t know Wieden, but you know his work. Just Do It. Somehow this little phrase has far transcended the original meaning and the campaign that made it famous, becoming the unofficial slogan for the second leadership essential—grit.
Grit is doing what you don't want to do when it needs to be done. This is the second leadership essential because it helps us win the most important battles—the internal struggle of our mind. The ultimate key to leadership grit is repetition.
Recently, I began running again after a short decade break. What began for me as an enjoyable summer recreation in high school has turned into pure self-hatred. I used to focus on splits and form, now I focus on seconds and fat. I got out my old running journal hoping to use some planned workouts and save myself some time. Here is a quote from that skinny punk, “6-mile easy run today, just get out on the trail.” Honestly, my long runs are now shorter than that arrogant prick’s recoveries.
But I have run every day this year.
Grit is developed over time, but it is never advanced in the moment when it is needed. Enduring your desire for ease is made possible by prior decisions. Before we launch into the meat of the post, here are four basics of grit:
Craft compelling goals
Build momentum through bite-sized tasks
Celebrate small victories
Maintain systems of accountability
The single most important actionable in long-term leadership grit is called The Five Whys. If you trace every problem in your momentum back through five consecutive why questions, you will often find the foundation of your problem. This process is infuriating, but it pays off:
Consider one area you can’t overcome or haven’t been able to make progress on lately. State the problem clearly, exempli gratia, “I’m not healthy… why?” Briefly break down what contributes to health and evaluate your own condition.
Once you’ve identified the next layer, “I’m not exercising,” "donuts are delicious," or my friend's dilemma, "queso is bae," you may be able to work your way back to the eventual cause of the problem—the root.
Mine was simple, I wasn’t waking on time. A mentor of mine, Steve, pointed out a fifth why that led to my breakthrough. I couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough to fit all my day in. His advice was clear and actionable,
My breakthrough began with a rhythm of getting to bed earlier. Without enough sleep my hope for an early rise was impossible.
One of the great debates in my field of study is whether a person’s actions follow belief or the converse. The great breakthrough is realizing that both sides are true and necessary for achieving forward motion. For most of us, our first step in forming leadership grit is to practice for the main event.
Prior to any test, you must establish rhythms of life that will make grit natural. Start with discipline in the little things so that you will have formed yourself in grit long before the challenge comes.
The more miles you run, the easier the next one becomes. The more donuts you avoid, the easier tying your shoes becomes. The more Ikea furniture you assemble the easier all of life becomes.