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The Most Important Trait Government Leaders Need Right Now

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A few years ago, I wrote a post on why I was thankful for those who had taught me what it means to display grit.

The article is mostly autobiographical. I’ve had some great role models to observe as they’ve navigated adversity in their lives.

If you aren’t clear on the term grit, consider it tenacity on steroids.

Grit is that grind-it-out sticktoitiveness in the face of adversity displayed by individuals long on character and short on “I can’t.”

We don’t talk about grit much, although an excellent recent book brought the term into the mainstream.

Mostly we observe grit. Hopefully, we learn.

Yet, grit is the essential trait I want in my leaders.

I’ve struggled with the idea of how to teach grit, and I’ve labored to model it with my children. I know they understand what grit is. I believe they have grit, but time and their response to adversity will tell.

I believe grit is the critical character attribute for everyone in a leadership role. After all, we put people in leadership roles to help us navigate adversity, not preside over the easy stuff.

You’re not a leader until you’ve challenged and defeated the status quo.

You’re not a leader until you’ve helped others navigate and overcome adversity.

You’re not a leader until you’ve stood alone, exposed and vulnerable, and taken a stand for a person, a group, a cause, or a direction. That’s leadership grit.

Here are 12 examples of leadership grit I’ve been grateful to observe.

  1. Saying “no” when most others would say “yes.”
  2. Saying, “We’ll go” when everyone else is paralyzed by fear and stuck in the gravitational pull of the status quo.
  3. Refusing to go along with the conventional wisdom when it would be the easy and safe thing to do. (Would someone please uninvite conventional wisdom to the party.)
  4. Standing up for a person you believe in, when everyone else has written her off.
  5. Living and leading according to the organization’s values and your values without compromise.
  6. Firing someone because they don’t live and work according to the values.
  7. Tackling the tough conversations and big issues in real time because you know that’s where progress is born.
  8. Hiring the best candidate, not the one with the pedigree that everyone wants you to hire. (The best candidate is always the one who can show you how she displayed grit in the face of adversity.)
  9. Holding yourself publicly accountable for your mistakes and then fixing them.
  10. Having the courage to recognize a failed initiative and pull the plug instead of escalating commitment. (Don’t confuse grit with irrational stubbornness.)
  11. Calling B.S. on the poorly thought out ideas of your superiors.
  12. Recognizing your own limitations and bringing in people smarter and better than you and knocking down walls to help them succeed.

Grit isn’t an important trait in leaders; it’s THE trait. Model it, hire for it, and support those who display it with all the grit you can muster.

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.

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