This “do something” is all about how we choose to put an idea into practice (how we execute). It involves the moving from the abstract to the real. The pathway is never a straight line - it is a set of twists and turns, barriers that must be overcome, challenges to be faced, and real problem solving of the unexpected. It’s a difficult journey. And to lead such an endeavor is not for everyone. It's filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. It requires an extraordinarily rare leadership trait.
This unique trait, the ability to make things happen, to execute through adversity, is the essence of transformative leaders - and it’s called GRIT.
This essential ingredient that distinguishes the real transformative leader from the rest is what one of the most famous entrepreneurs that ever lived, Thomas Edison, was referring to when he first said that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Grit IS THE QUALITY that allows people to accomplish their goals, to actualize their dreams, to create a legacy. As a teacher, I can’t help but turn it into an acronym to explain what I mean, so indulge me.
The 1st element of GRIT, G represents Goals. Successful transformative leaders typically have a well-articulated set of goals. They have absolute clarity of purpose and work toward those goals with a zest that for most is unimaginable. The ability to define a unifying goal for a team moves everyone toward to common endpoint - and helps achieve more than we ever imagined possible. If you're lucky enough to have such a leader - follow. If you are one of the unlucky people and you do not have such a leader - find one. Soon.
The 2nd element of GRIT, R represents Resilience. Great leaders and great entrepreneurs are able to deal with stress and uncertainty. They know how to develop enough mental "hardness" to persevere, and they take on the challenges – not run from them. They keep their emotions in check while others become an emotional fuse. They rise early, and they work when others are playing. These leaders are often the ones who grew up in the back of the room (or for some of us as a child - the back of the bus), but we are here today because of our ability to persevere. We've learned to work through adversity. We take nothing for granted. We have an unwavering work ethic and a powerful resolve to succeed. We never quit.
The 3rd element of GRIT, I represents Innovation. The transformative leaders I admire most have learned to think through possibilities and identify practical solutions. They have a sharp distaste for simply accepting the status-quo. They drive to think beyond yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow’s problems. They think "how can this work" vs. "how this might fail." They embrace their curiosity. They deal with extreme degrees of uncertainty - and build business models anyway. They create structure where none has existed. They see opportunity where others only see chaos.
The final element of GRIT, T represents Trust. Transformative leaders trust their instincts and they trust themselves to make good choices when “all the data” simply isn’t available. They invest in building the trust of people around them because they "earn it." This trust is rooted in a confident expectation of an outcome, in being a student of the industry, in a transcendent optimism in the face of deep challenge, in the belief of the team’s collective success. The truly successful leaders earn the trust others to help execute the vision and turn their idea into something real. They lead by example - and share in the work. They put their team ahead of themselves. They never take more than they give.
This is the definition of GRIT - the essential ingredient for being a transformative leader. Without it, you're toast.
Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.
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