Most leaders want a better year than the one they just had. Perhaps you have a clear vision of a better future, purposefully and thoughtfully crafted. Maybe you have been working deliberately toward an exciting goal, but nothing seems to change. Success and significance don't just happen. In an increasingly complex workplace, leaders struggle to achieve their most meaningful goals. After spending thousands of hours coaching executive leaders and completing my doctoral research, I have learned that achieving big goals takes more than being deliberate and passionate. You need perseverance. Here are two ways to improve just that.
Why do you need perseverance?
The best things in work and life don't come easy or quickly. Sometimes it can appear that success just happens. However, consider true love, a good laugh with a friend, hearing an honest opinion from a direct report, or discovering an innovation that transforms your business. Most often it is the result of a series of decisions and overcoming significant challenges that lead to success. Each requires choices and effort.
"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. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." Calvin Coolidge
Perseverance is a form of goal orientation. Fueled by passion, perseverance requires sustained commitment and discipline despite the difficulty or length of time needed to succeed.
Evidence suggests that perseverance is a better predictor of success in work and life than intelligence or talent. In a peer-reviewed study involving 2235 college students, perseverance, passion, and deliberateness were better predictors of success than IQ. Researchers concluded that success involves a sustained and focused application of talent over time.
A global study involving 686 employees found that perseverance is highly associated with work performance and negatively associated with behaviors that undermine the goals and interests of business.
While one can not predict the future, you can expect to encounter setbacks as you work toward big goals. The more meaningful the goal, the more significant impact these challenges can have on you and your team's thoughts and feelings. Learning how to improve perseverance is important for leaders in a fast-paced turbulent workplace.
Real-life Example: In the Netflix documentary The Last Dance, you get a behind-the-scenes view into one of the greatest NBA dynasties and Michael Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls. While the series is not without criticism one thing that becomes obvious is that leading a team to achieve amazing results requires perseverance to overcome adversity in the locker room and on the court. In one episode you learn Scottie Pippen purposefully delayed surgery so he would miss opening season games during a compensation dispute. Rodman is shown to be able to disrupt an offense and his team with his complex personality. Also, following his first three-peat, Jordan admitted to being past exhausted mentally and physically. In The Last Dance, he is quoted as saying, "I didn't think about being tired because I wanted to win the game."
2 Ways to Improve Your Perseverance
1. Pursue your passion and purpose
Although the concept appears straightforward, the value lies in the uncovering the intersection of:
What do you love?
What are you good at?
What does the world need?
The busyness of a fast-paced digital world has a way of keeping leaders from understanding and pursuing their life's goals. Following your purpose is a journey rather than a quick fix. A deeper understanding is revealed from listening to others.
Here are four steps to help you find and follow your purpose and passion:
Step 1: Schedule a time to reflect for ten minutes on each of the questions about what you love, are good at, and what the world needs. Find a quiet place where you are relaxed and can focus without distraction. Ask yourself each question and journal what comes to mind. Don't filter. Just write it down.
Step 2: Find a few people that know you well, that you trust, and will be encouraging. Ask them how they would answer these questions for you.
Step 3: Consider hiring an executive coach. An effective executive coach will challenge assumptions and views and encourage, stretch, and challenge you. Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential.
Step 4: Reflect on what you have learned. Consider themes rather than specific points shared and, as needed, edit or delete points you journaled.
Leaders with perseverance pursue their passion and purpose. Is your work aligned with your purpose and passion?
2. Hope for a better future
How you perceive the future can significantly affect how you feel and behave in the present. Every leader has or will face moments where they think their situation is hopeless.
Hope involves emotion and belief. Finding hope for a better future when you feel a sense of hopelessness takes work. Here are four steps to cultivate hope:
Step 1: Reframe negative thought patterns. There are times when you will struggle to find anything positive about a situation. The key is to intentionally imagine the positive possibilities in a given situation and be aware of the little things until you think of the more considerable positives.
Step 2: Believe in yourself. Acknowledge your strengths and give yourself the grace to accept where you are. Try using affirmations phrased as questions, such as:
What if everything goes right?
What if I can trust my intuition?
What if I am totally prepared?
Step 3: Cultivate positive trust-based relationships. We are all more closely connected than we often realize. It is much easier to have hope for a better future in a supportive community. If you surround yourself with mostly positive and encouraging people, you will likely begin to shift your attitudes and perceptions.
Step 4: Envision a specific future. It is easier to find something when we know what you are looking to find. We need clarity. Define what a better future looks like. One approach is to create a virtual picture collage that represents a better future. Then find a place to keep it in front of you.
You can learn more about the science and power of hope from this TedTalk with researcher Dr. Chan Hellman.
Leaders with perseverance have hope for a better future. Are your thoughts and feelings about the future mostly positive or negative?
Conclusion: The Importance of Perseverance
Without the commitment to a plan, you never start. Without perseverance, you never finish. Success and significance come from a sustained and focused application of your knowledge and skills over time.
In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world leaders need the perseverance to lead teams to achieve meaningful goals. Pursuing your passion and purpose, and having hope for a better future are two ways to improve perseverance.
What is the real challenge for you in pursuing your purpose and passion at work and in life? or finding hope in the future?
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Lavy, S. (2016). Going the Extra Mile: Perseverance as a Key Character Strength at Work. Journal of Career Assessment, 24(2), 240–252.
Schaffner, A. (2022). Perseverance in psychology: 4 activities to improve perseverance. Positive Psychology.
Weir, K. (2013). Being hopeful is good for you — and psychologists’ research is pinpointing ways to foster the feeling. Science Watch. 44(9). 42