"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." MJ
Put simply; tenacity is that fierce blend of determination, persistence and grit. For you and your organisation, it's the trait that means the difference between failure and success.
What it looks like, in a leader
Have you ever seen a weightlifter hit their PR deadlift, and they are right there at the top of the rep trying to lock out. Their whole face is screwed up in pure focus and pain, their backs started to round, and they are sort of mini-humping the bar in the hope it takes pity on them and removes some of its gravitational pull. But they keep pulling and eventually lock out with success.
No, this is not what tenacity in a leader looks like.
The picture of tenacity is truly painted when that person turns up day after day after day after day after day: when it's cold, when it's boring, when they're hungover, when they have beat their best records but everyone else seems to be lifting twice as much when they have bought the best shoes and analysed every pro out there when they think it can't get any more challenging and then some global macro factor says they can now only work out if they pay triple the membership fee.
Turning up, problem-solving, optimising. That's tenacity.
Why you need it
Starbucks did not reach its fifth store until 13 years into its history.
98% of employers would rather hire an employee with tenacity than someone otherwise perfectly qualified.
You may stumble across success via vast sums of luck, or you discover something like the seven lines of code that created Stripe. And boom, you've made it. But the chances of that are very, very, slim. Expecting that to happen, or worse, waiting for that to happen, is only cheating yourself.
The only way is; through.
How to test for it
Ask yourself this question, then answer it in your head. Then index your answer against the explanation I've set out below.
Q: How do you turn your career aspirations into reality?
Tenacious leader: What comes to mind is evidence of not just achieving things that were hard, relative to your situation, but also how you handled failing through resilience and self-analysis for optimisation. How you kept pushing even with delayed gratification.
This question may, at first, feel a little harsh. For example, maybe it's that you're currently on the way towards your goal. But try to reflect on smaller goals, how you approached them, and what you did when it got hard. If this still feels like the question is calling you out. Then it probably is. And tenacity may be something to continue to build within you.
How to cultivate tenacity
The obvious first thought here may be that tenacity is the gift we receive after we endure. This is bullshit. This is like telling someone to go to war without any skills. If they survive, they will be rewarded with grit. The army actually does a very good job of teaching tenacity before compat, arming people with the psychological skills of handling intense situations or surviving when things are hard.
Deuce mindsets that solve for tenacity:
- Objectivity. The best tool you can arm yourself with is also the simplest. Step away from the hard situation, take some of the emotion out of it, and then tell yourself, "this is the job". Those four words detach the problem from you and instead create something to work on, rather than in.
- Optimism. Don't waste time considering all the reasons something may not work. Instead, approach the situation the mindset of; how can I make this work. In both states, you will end up finding the problems, but the optimist will only find the problems that actually occur. Be a problem solver, not a problem adder.
"The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty". – Winston Churchill.
To wrap, check out this Ted talk on grit, with over 25M views it really is worth the watch!