Is Tenacity (or Tenacity Intelligence) another Million Dollar Consulting Service area where seminar after seminar will be delivered just a little like what we've experienced with Emotional Intelligence? I sure hope not. I am going to get ahead of this possible trend and say there is no such thing as a level of intelligence for Tenacity (some, myself included, also question whether there really is a level of intelligence for Emotions either -- as opposed to simply a level of maturity -- but that is a whole other discussion topic).
What I can say is there are definitely those who have Tenacity and those who do not. I can also say that it can make a huge difference in moving things forward in the organizations we work in.
I am not the only one who believes in the value of Tenacity. In his Entrepreneur magazine article entitled the "The 7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs," Joe Robinson explains that entrepreneurial leaders like "Mike Colwell, who runs Plains Angels, an Iowa angel investor forum, and the accelerator Business Innovation Zone for the Greater Des Moines Partnership" believe that Tenacity is one of the top requirements for successful entrepreneurs. He quotes Mr. Colwell who says that, in terms of successful entrepreneurial traits, "Tenacity is No. 1."
My own experience has been that Tenacity is not just for entrepreneurs. When it comes to driving forward a challenging initiative -- or just about any initiative -- to a successful outcome, I have often seen how much a certain project leader's Tenacity has paid off. I have also seen how desperately hard it often is to get to a successful outcome without Tenacity.
So it seems slightly odd that although you can read a new article about Emotional Intelligence, Change Management, and general Leadership just about every day in the mainstream business management literature, Tenacity seems to be a rather undiscovered and under-studied area. Angela Lee Duckworth is one individual who has studied Tenacity -- she uses the term "Grit" -- and In her 2013 TED talk "Grit: the power of passion and perseverance," Angela Lee Duckworth reports that she "...left a very demanding job in management consulting for a job that was even more demanding: teaching. I went to teach seventh graders math in the New York City public schools." What she found was "...that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students." After Ms. Duckworth left her teaching job:
"...I went to graduate school to become a psychologist. I started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study my question was, who is successful here and why? My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who's going to earn the most money? In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't IQ. It was grit."
As Ms. Duckworth puts it: "Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."
It all sounds great, doesn't it? We should all have Tenacity (or call it Grit if that feels more visceral to you). So here is my question: how do we develop Tenacity, how do we help others develop it?
In all of my research, I am not able to find much on how one develops tenacity in the context of a business environment, although there are lots of self-help blog posts on Tenacity that prescribe the usual self-help remedies such as maintaining focus, finding sources of motivation, etc. Ms. Duckworth doesn't seem to know how tenacity gets developed either:
"To me, the most shocking thing about grit is how little we know, how little science knows, about building it. Every day, parents and teachers ask me, 'How do I build grit in kids? What do I do to teach kids a solid work ethic? How do I keep them motivated for the long run?' The honest answer is, I don't know."
I think the development of Tenacity must be more of a life-experience thing. What I mean by this is: you cannot go to a school or even to some sort of expensive retreat to develop it. It is something that you get (or not) with the miles you've covered in your life; from some of those challenging experiences (or projects!) you've somehow lived through.
Maybe Tenacity is that thing some of us have developed, because, after surviving a challenging experience, we've had to ask ourselves: having gone through this, is this going to make me Bitter or Better? And we've answered: Better.
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