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When you think of the word, perseverance, who are some people that come to mind? Congressman John Lewis? Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Cancer advocate Terry Fox? Astronaut Sally Ride? Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi? Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern? Millions of people, known and unknown, have given their lives to a mission or a cause. They pushed the barriers, boundaries, setbacks, and endured heartbreak. They persevered. They displayed initiative, drive, self-motivation, and grit. They pursued a better future. They pursued excellence. Along the way, each indeed needed a growth mindset, remained agile, and bounced back from the many setbacks they encountered along the way.

People who persevere have an optimistic mindset. They see a better future. Your mindset will have a distinctive impact on how you engage with the world. Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? According to scholar Carol Dweck, people with a growth mindset understand that they may not have mastered a skill or achieved their goal yet. Failure is a part of a process, and people with a growth mindset view a setback as a part of the process, not a lifelong identity. People with a fixed mindset lose sight of the possibilities and create “rules” that fix them in place. Statements like, “I am not a good presenter” or “I am not funny” cements them in that reality. A person with confidence, courage, and an optimistic mindset about the future will have an advantage over others. As you explore the Perseverance Skill Topics, reflect on your mindset—how it helps or hinders progress. In what domains do you feel confident, courageous, and optimistic? What is the source of these attitudes, and how do they transfer to other areas of your life?

Another core element of leadership is agility. One of the few constants in life is change. Your ability to remain agile when confronted with a new reality will aid your determination to succeed. In this Skill, we will explore ambiguity, which equates to the fact that all of us, at one time or another, will be confronted with an uncertain future, both in our personal and professional lives. Because of this uncertainty, it is important to remain flexible and adaptive—staying true to your principles by course-correcting as the context shifts. And finally, you must stay versatile and maintain a relevant set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. As you work through the content, reflect on your own experiences. Are you agile? Do you navigate uncertainty with confidence? Are you flexible and known as a versatile team player?

A third hallmark of perseverance is a person’s ability to bounce back when confronted with a setback, roadblocks, and even failure. The Bouncing Back section will explore concepts such as coping with failure, humility, resilience, and recalibrating. When you challenge yourself, work past boundaries, and take calculated risks, you will likely encounter failure. Humility is a close associate of confidence. Genuinely confident people have a sense of humility, they are comfortable with abilities but understand that there is much more to learn. Another core attribute of bouncing back according to scholar Angela Duckworth is grit, which means that you “get back up” after being knocked down (Duckworth, 2016). And when you bounce back, you understand the need to recalibrate and try another approach, adjust course, and re-tool if necessary. As you explore this section, reflect on how you deal with failure, stay open to new possibilities, maintain your energy and enthusiasm, and recalibrate to succeed.

Quickly review the list of names at the beginning of this introduction, and you will be reminded that the activity of leadership is riddled with challenge. Leaders experience everything from overt acts of violence to subtle bias in their quest to move the needle and spark progress. This Skill highlights several topics that, when combined, yield an inspiring and successful individual.

In this Skill, you will find real-world scenarios, videos, data, and more that will help you:

  • Understand aspects of determination such as initiative, drive, and focus
  • Identify components of an optimistic outlook
  • Explain your definition of and perspective on courage
  • Identify ways that you can be more agile as you approach your career
  • Build a mindset that values resilience, courage, and humble in the face of setbacks

Further Reading

Corner, P. D., Singh, S. & Pavlovich, K. (2017). Entrepreneurial resilience and venture failure. International Small Business Journal, 35(6), 687708.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance (Vol. 234). Scribner.
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
Highsmith, J. (2009). Agile project management: Creating innovative products. Pearson Education.
Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin.
Seligman, M. E. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. Vintage.