Thursday, August 12, 2021

Building “Grit” through the lens of …. 59/36/16+

No, the numerals in the title aren’t some sort of code or lock “combination.” Instead, those numbers are the very personal “lens” that I am thinking a lot about these days as I am working on building my own “grit” in the summer of 2021. As I am 59 years old, have had a 36 year business career, and have been in a key operating role, leading a wonderful company through the Covid pandemic for over 16 months, I have been working on building my own “grit” this year like no other time in my career. I want to reflect on that dynamic and share a few thoughts about my leadership journey in these troubled and challenging times so that maybe my experiences can be helpful to you. 

Grit: (noun) firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger

 As I think about this concept, the definition above is very helpful. We are all living (and working/leading) in times filled with hardships and danger, really pushing all of us to have a “firmness of mind or spirit.” When I saw this definition, it really rang true. Across my career, I have faced various challenges, and tough moments but I have never seen anything like this … leading through Covid. Recently the country and our company have been challenged by the spike in covid cases driven by the Delta variant. While this essay is about resilience and courage, I will make this simple statement….. the science is clear…. the actions we ALL need to take is to get vaccinated and wear our masks! No questions and no debate of any kind! 

It’s in this context that I have been working on my own “grit” and have looked for ways to build by own “firmness of mind/spirit” in the face of these ever-present challenges. A few years ago, I wrote an essay about “grit” ( ) that was inspired by the work of Angela Duckworth. ( Her work was centered around the need for “grit” to be a priority for parents raising children in the 21st century. While profound and true in 2013 (her TED talk is well worth the time,) WOW do I see it as a huge topic for ALL of us today. You could think about the political strife in our country and around the world, the climate challenges facing the globe, the pervasive racial inequities, again in our country and around the world, then add on the Covid pandemic and the current delta spike and it all may seem like just too much to handle. It’s in this reality, through the lens of “59/36/16+,” that I have realized MY NEED to work on MY GRIT and strengthen MY “firmness of mind or spirit!” I don’t have any simple panacea of how to handle these challenging times, or a simple leadership model that will make it all easy! Instead, I have a few ideas/practices that are helping me and may be helpful to you: 

 Think about what you need 

I often write about the need as leaders to know your team, the competitive landscape, know the numbers, etc. Now I want to quote Plutarch…”Know Thyself.” What do you need to be strong? When do you need a break? What gives you energy or the opposite? And I could go on… get in-touch with YOU and pay attention to how you are doing. I see across business today so many leaders working themselves into the ground, not taking time for themselves (and their families) and to what end?? So they can be worn out, brittle and fragile as challenging moments arise?? That’s the wrong move, now more than ever!

  Work the problem 

As challenges arise (and we know they will, maybe even new variants beyond Delta) it gets overwhelming when we think about the macro context and ALL the challenges. Not being na├»ve, my suggestion continues to be “work the problem” ahead. As a planner, this is hard for me, always trying to anticipate the next few moves ahead, but now more than ever I have narrowed my focus and have centered myself on the challenges immediately ahead. 

 “Small bites”

 Those of you that have read my blog over the years know that I often quote “Aunt Lorraine’s Law,” 
( that is to “take small bites and chew thoroughly.” WOW do I find this relevant and helpful today! When I mentioned above to “work the problem,” I am now taking a few extra moments to divide and sub-divide the work plan into smaller portions, “chunks” that are clear and achievable to help propel the work forward and minimize the sense of being “overwhelmed” by the size or extent of an issue.

  Get more steps/get more sleep

 I give credit fully to my long time work partner and friend Cathy for this one. Improving your exercise and improving your sleep are not just good ideas in normal circumstances, they are vital today!! Just this week, after a VERY challenging day, I took some time after work to go to the driving range and hit balls for about an hour… just to get some physical time at the end of a tough day. Now it was 107 that day in Bakersfield and I plowed through my jug of water pretty quickly, but it felt great, and after an evening shower and a light dinner, I crashed early and actually had a nice night of sleep…. VERY needed sleep for me so I could be fresh the next morning to “re-face” those challenges from the day before. 

 “Use the big spoon” 

My final encouragement is for all to work on appreciation… to take a moment and use the “big spoon” to appreciate all we have…. whether it’s our family, friends, our pets, our health and just the fact that our lives are fragile and precious, and we are so lucky and fortunate to have the chance to face the challenges we are facing!

 I will close with these few thoughts and encourage all of you to think about your “grit” as we finish out the summer of 2021. Yes, it's been so tough and deeply challenging and those “hardships” may continue and (god forbid) may even grow in the weeks/months ahead. Regardless of that dynamic, we can all take steps to strengthen the “firmness of our mind/spirit,” and to build our “grit” and I hope the ideas that I have suggested above can be helpful in your journey!