How to Persist in Leadership Even When It’s Hard
Success is rarely ever built on one moment of genius; it’s often built on a shameless refusal to quit. That’s true in many things, leadership included. However, every professional leader has faced challenges on their journey; they are unavoidable and can cause feelings of doubt, fear, frustration, and a sense of defeat.
While no one likes to feel these emotions, they typically cause managers to quit or persevere. Persistence is defined as the firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. In other words, it’s a shameless refusal to quit, especially when most people or teams would give up.
Great leaders who have achieved sustained success know what, on the surface, looks like talent is mainly a heavy dose of perseverance.
Great leaders know successful performance looks like talent on the surface, but it’s mainly perseverance.
The Equation for Performance
A compelling body of research has explored the factors that underpin successful performance, which is best explained in a simple equation:
Ability x Persistence = Performance.
Talent by itself isn’t enough; persistence alone is also not enough. What’s required is both to perform at a high level over time. Calvin Coolidge said it well, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
If like me you align with Coolidge’s quote and you want to persevere more in leadership, here are three proven ways to do it:
1. Focus on the Cause
You can’t accomplish what you give up.
Do you know the mile most marathon runners quit? Most people think it’s at the begging of the race around mile 5 or the very end, like mile 25. Research shows most marathon runners quit at mile 20. The reason is it’s when runners say to themselves, “I don’t think I can make it.” If at that moment runners don’t have a deep enough cause for finishing the race, that’s precisely when they will first give up mentally, followed by giving up physically.
Whether you are a distance runner or not, there is a lot to learn about perseverance from this lesson. If you focus on the deeper cause of leadership, which is elevating others, you will keep going. Real leaders know they can quit a job, but they can’t leave leadership because people need their help.
Real leaders can quit a job, but they can’t leave leadership. There are always people that need help.
If you are struggling and having difficulty remembering the deeper cause of leadership, I always coach leaders to go back to the source. Reach out to previous team members you have gotten the opportunity to lead and ask them what you did well and what kind of impact you made on their journey. More often than not, those answers will remind you of the deeper cause of leadership.
2. Remember Failure is Feedback
Leadership is hard. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it or give up because failure is not final. As I wrote in Building the Best, Failure is a part of leadership, which means failure must become feedback. When you make mistakes, please don’t beat yourself up; learn from them. If leadership were easy, everyone would be doing it.
If leadership were easy, everyone would be doing it.
One of the best methods of learning from your failures or experiencing the mistakes of others is to keep what I call a Personal Leadership Guide or “PLG.” The idea behind “PLG” is to write leadership lessons in your favorite note-taking app or a notebook. Anytime you experience something you want to start, stop, continue, or one day do as a leader, write it down. Then at the end of each year, pull out the 5 to 7 most important lessons and review them. Then you rinse and repeat year after year.
3. Concentrate on Growth
It’s a lot easier to persevere when you concentrate on your growth instead of your gaps. The best leaders concentrate on the growth of progression, not the gap in execution.
The best leaders concentrate on the growth of progression, not the gap in execution.
One of the biggest reasons people quit is an unhealthy focus on the gaps in skill or execution. There is a simple question to determine if you concentrate on the growth of progression or the gaps in execution.
“Am I actively working on getting better as a leader?”
While the question is simple to ask, so few of us do. If you are actively working on getting better as a leader and you can point to specific examples of how you are better today than you were yesterday, you are on the right track.
Perseverance and the shameless refusal to quit on people is an essential leadership skill to develop and possess. If you are lucky enough to have a leader who has stuck with you, please find the time to say thank you.
If you are questioning yourself and whether you are right where you are supposed to be, it’s my hope you will focus on the cause, remember failure is not final, and concentrate on growth, instead of giving up.
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft and VP of Thought Leadership at Peoplebox. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.