I wrote this article for Cumbria Business three years ago. It struck me as being even more relevant in 2020 than it was in 2016.
Grit, resilience and resistance to pressure are underrated qualities of leadership. They are core to winning in a crazy world. They go to the heart of mental toughness, which means always finding a way to win. More than ever, Peak Performance requires grit and guts.
“Winners never quit and quitters never win,” was how ESPN Coach of the Century, Vince Lombardi put this. The furnace of Test rugby is a good example. You need grit in elite international competition. Between winning the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, New Zealand played 54 Tests with a record of 49 wins, three defeats and two draws. The All Blacks win more than other teams because they go the full eighty. World Cup-winning All Blacks champion fly-half and All Blacks selector, Grant Fox, told me in 1991 that the key to winning test matches was to have “fire in the belly, ice in the mind.”
“The price of greatness is responsibility,” said Winston Churchill. A leader bears the scar tissue of responsibility. Leaders have been through it. They have emerged bloodied, but stronger. They decide when no one else has the guts. Pressure is a privilege. Nothing beats the feeling of the good fight and the great win. Vince Lombardi: “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle — victorious.”
Killer resolve is not some mysterious X factor. Grit is a serious neuroscientific phenomenon. Check out The Power of Passion and Perseverance by University of Pennsylvania psychologist and MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth (Scribner, May 3). She explains how grit is a skill that can be learned and honed, regardless of IQ, innate talent, luck, or life circumstances. Churchill got this. In 1941 he delivered a speech to the students of Harrow School: “…never give in, never give in, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Confidence is part of it, which is about self-belief based on prior achievement, knowledge, and clarity of personal purpose. It’s about feeling the thrill of the hunt, the tension, the exhilaration. It’s being able to visualise victory, in tandem with a strong sense of fear, anguish, and unrest. You’re unsettled, but excited. Confidence is positive energy that delivers an expectation of success tempered with determination to ensure success is delivered. It’s about living your life in 3D…Discipline. Desire. Determination.
Start every day with your ABCs. Ambition. Belief. Courage. To get ahead in the world, figure out what you’re good at, and then focus on becoming great at it. It’s not about where you’re from; it’s where you’re going—and how hard you’re willing to dig in to get there. Ambition, belief and courage epitomise those who succeed in the face of adversity.
Life is full of setbacks if you go for it. “Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man…and give some back.” That’s Actor Ian McShane’s character, Al Swearengen in the HBO’s Shakespearean western Deadwood. If you are going through hell, pin your ears back and keep on driving right through to the other side. American baseball legend Yogi Berra said it well: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And if it is, go again.”