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Is Perseverance the Key to Leadership Success?


We talk a lot about leadership in terms of the knowledge or skills we need to become more competent, most of which can be developed with training or coaching. However, one big part of becoming a successful leader is very difficult to develop and that’s the need for every leader to persevere, especially in the face of obstacles-large and small.Perseverance is often the key to leadership success especially when things do not go quite as anticipated and consequently often needs more focus or attention.

What do we mean when we talk about perseverance? Perseverance is a steady persistence in a course of tasks or action in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement from one or more people. What this means for a leader in particular is that he or she does not easily or quickly give in when confronted with an obstacle or when faced with an unexpected obstacle threatening to block team members as they push towards an ultimate goal. And this is not just about being a good decision-maker around so-called hard or very tangible issues like finding more money or resources but includes “softer” issues such as dealing with low team morale or a poorly motivated employee, for example.

Any leader who is faced with unexpected difficulties, obstacles or situations which threaten to prevent the team from reaching its goals will need to demonstrate a range of skills to deal with the situation but perseverance to get to a better place is primary amongst them. A really good leader will consequently examine the underlying causes of the difficulty so as to identify potential solutions and set about implementing methods to allow the team as a whole to persevere through the obstacle. If a leader does not have the ability to persevere when confronted with difficulties, the team’s chances of accomplishing its goals are much diminished.

So what can we do to build leadership skills in the area of perseverance? According to leadership writer John Maxwell, unlike other skill development areas we should focus instead on eliminating the following five inhibitors to success:

  1. Avoiding adopting an attitude that it’s OK to give up

Clearly, giving up or taking the less complex path is the easy thing to do in many situations (and is a natural human reaction in many cases). However, we must fight this urge and start to practice not giving up or learn to take the difficult (and ultimately the more profitable) path. This takes focus and practice but the more a leader does this the more the perseverance “muscle” strengthens.

  1. Changing the belief that “life should be easy”

It’s common to expect that life should “roll along” easily and not present us with obstacles most of the time. However, we all know that these expectations are not realistic. It is therefore better to mentally plan or expect obstacles and even think about what they may be so that we can better deal with them when they do occur (and be pleasantly surprised when they don’t).

  1. Eliminating the belief that success is “a destination”

Success is often described in future terms and as a specific destination. For example, we may say: “This individual or team will be successful when it has lifted output by x%”. However, individuals or teams may not be successful when they reach this goal and success may rest on many other more complex factors (not to mention that circumstances change over time). What this means in practice is that the path to “relative success” is a journey not a destination, and the best we can do is to persevere towards a milestone and then recalibrate. We can then press on to the next milestone.

  1. Overcoming low personal resiliency

When leaders have low personal resilience they experience high levels of frustration and disappointment when setbacks occur and this is a poor role model for team members. Leaders therefore cannot allow discouraging obstacles to visibly shake them and must instead try to “thicken” their resiliency muscle. This is not easy and may need a “fake it till you make it” approach at first. Once again, practice helps builds this considerably over time.

  1. Ensuring that there is no lack of “vision”

A personal vision of what the future can look like not only inspires team members (if well crafted of course), but can help people “push through” when obstacles or setbacks occur. In other words, a strong long-term vision helps leaders and the team to maintain a “bigger-picture” perspective and thereby see the setback in a wider context (and are regard to be smaller and easier to deal with as a result). 

In summary then, much of the above is fundamentally about an attitude shift in which leaders take the time to think through which of the above is most holding back their ability to persevere.


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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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