The Most Important Leadership Quality
- 24 Best Leadership Practices | Part 24 of 24 -
There is likely no character trait that is more vital to leadership success than perseverance. Indeed, everyone has limitless potential – it’s simply the level of perseverance that either grows or decreases that level of potential. As such, perseverance is both success and failure’s greatest ally. Indeed, with great perseverance, failure leads to learning and ultimately success. Without perseverance, failure produces further failure. As such, perseverance can turn an ordinary individual into an exceptionally successful leader. On the other hand, the lack of perseverance can turn the most talented individual in the world into one of mediocrity. Simply, perseverance or the lack thereof, has a gravitational pull in either a positive or negative direction. Remember, failure is not a mistake but rather an opportunity for learning and a gateway to future success because the greatest lessons are not learned in the peaks but rather in the valleys.
The MOst Powerful Leadership Trait
Great leadership and momentous works don’t come from mere intellect, strength, or resources but rather from the undying engine of perseverance and a never quit mentality. Simply, perseverance is the mother of success. As Victor Hugo found, perseverance is the secret of all triumphs. In addition, and as President Calvin Coolidge noted, “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 are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” For example, as an inventor, Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." As Winston Churchill noted, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Indeed, all one has to do is look at the animal kingdom’s mighty polar bear who fails to catch food on approximately 95 percent of its attempts. Yet, this animal’s great survival instincts give it immense perseverance to carry on. Similarly, everyone should look at perseverance as not a “nice to have” trait but rather a core component to one’s survival just like the mighty polar bear. Indeed, without perseverance this majestic animal would have gone extinct centuries ago. Similarly, without perseverance great leaders, inventors, visionaries, and organizations will also go extinct.
Embrace Failure as the LEarning Tool That it Is
It’s often difficult to understand why you’re successful if all you experience are wins. Instead, the great lessons are learned in the valleys, not in the peaks. As Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner noted, “As weather shapes mountains, problems shape leaders. Leaders are learners.” While many leaders run from failures and the valleys, visionary leaders come to embrace these trying times for out of these moments is where one’s character is refined as gold in a furnace and where one unlocks the greatest learnings. Remember, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall (Confucius)." Indeed, without embracing failure, a leader will rarely if ever witness success. As such, great leaders remember that the lower the valleys the higher the peaks. There is an old saying that champions don’t become champions in the ring – they are merely recognized there. As such, the life of a champion whether an Olympic Gold medalist, great inventor such as Thomas Edison, or visionary leader such as Abraham Lincoln are riddled with failures. However, the only reason these individuals became leaders and champions is because they had unwavering perseverance. Given the daunting challenges every leader faces in a landscape where volatility and oftentimes chaos is the new normal, the opportunities to become more persevering our endless. Indeed, out of chaos comes immense opportunity if one has the necessary level of perseverance.
In addition, it’s up to leaders to not only exude perseverance but to also instill this character trait into those they are leading. Simply, great leaders are not only excellent learners but also excellent mentors. As such, leaders should build a culture that embraces failure - one in which failures are seen as a platform for continuous improvement rather than a platform for punishment. Accordingly, visionary leaders create a culture where it's not only ok to fail but rather that it's expected. Otherwise, change, innovation, and perseverance will be merely pretty words that never take shape or drive lasting impact. Indeed, without a runway for failure don’t expect a runway for success. As Thomas Aquinas notes, “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever." And, as Sumner Redstone noted, "Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe." As such, embrace failure because it is (1) the greatest learning tool (2) the precursor to perseverance, and (3) the gateway to success.
To summarize, the level of one’s perseverance is often the separator between failure and greatness. As Dale Carnegie noted, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Simply, challenges are opportunities for either failure or greatness depending on one's level of perseverance. The next time you think about running in the opposite direction for fear of failure, instead run and embrace it because failure is a gateway to success. The next time you think of giving up, instead take a never quit mindset understanding that the lower the valleys the higher the peaks. As pressure transforms graphite to diamond and fire refines gold so too is perseverance the catalyst for transforming one from mediocrity to excellence. No matter the harshness of the storm perseverance can ensure any individual makes it through stronger, better, and more refined. Obstacles are merely a frame of thought and failures can be seen as either one step closer to success or one step closer to failure. As Victor Hugo found, perseverance is the secret of all triumphs. As such, great leaders are a role model of perseverance; one that not only embraces the limitless opportunity of failure and its best friend, perseverance, but also one that encourages those around them to go fail so they in turn can build perseverance, learn, and unlock their full potential.
Read the other best leadership practices HERE.
24 Best Leadership Practices
- Series Overview -
The following article is Part 24 of a 24 part series on leadership (See all 24 best leadership practices HERE). To summarize, leadership is everyone’s business. Moreover, leadership abilities are not some innate talent that some were either born with or not but rather is a highly learnable skill. As such, everyone has the potential to become a great leader as long as one embraces a mindset of continuous improvement. Simply, leadership is not so much about inherent gifts and raw talent but rather the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong journey that is never mastered. Indeed, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace that there is never a finish line but rather an unending goal of continuous transformation.
Ultimately, the leadership journey is not about becoming someone else but instead is about becoming one's best self so that in turn one can help others become their best self. And, while there are many facets that go into successful leadership we have identified 24 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (see all 24 practices HERE).
- INSPIRE: To inspire action, great leaders appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul.
- EMPOWER: Great leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit.
- INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and understand that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them.
Leadership is the greatest race one will ever run – one without a finish line but also one with an exponential ceiling for those that embrace change, growth, and learning. While the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. Although no leader will be a master at each of the proposed 24 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. As such, we hope the proposed practices will be of service to you in maximizing not only your leadership potential but also the potential of those around you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Juris Doctor (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.