This post will build on one written Thursday by one of my fellow Dads and best friends. Almost on cue yesterday, I was asked by a person I was mentoring what I considered one of the most sought after traits in a leader or subordinate. After some thought, I ran through the normal list, talent, vision, self-discipline, expertise, problem-solving skills, communication, team orientation, networking, integrity and respect. While those are valuable traits, and certainly needed, I believe that the bedrock or cornerstone trait is perseverance.
A common thread throughout my studies of great leaders (and great followers) is their perseverance in the face of adversity. People of talent without perseverance are found in all walks of life – I meet them all the time. They had all the gifts to make it to the top except for the most important – perseverance. I also meet people who only have a few of the traits listed above, but they have achieved great things because they wouldn’t quit. One example from American history is that of General Ulysses S. Grant. He was not as talented as many of his opposing generals in the Confederate or Union army – he graduated near the bottom of his class at West Point. But Grant had the one trait that many of his fellow generals in the Union didn’t – perseverance. He simply wouldn’t quit.
Another wonderful example from the same time period was Abraham Lincoln. His life was filled with failures – any one of which would have crushed most people’s spirit. His Mother died when he was young, his attempts at business failed, he went bankrupt. He lost his first congressional election, won the seat, then lost again. Ran for the Senate and lost, ran again and lost again. He didn’t quit – it wasn’t in his nature. The first two years of the Civil War were punctuated by a series of defeats at the hands of the Confederacy, but he never considered quitting. Even when many in the Congress considered suing for peace and allowing the disillusion of the Union, Lincoln held firm.
A favorite quote of mine – author unknown – is most people quit on the edge of victory. Plato said “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile”. Perseverance cannot be replaced by any of the other traits listed above. Perseverance can, on the other hand, reinforce the other traits.
My advice to anyone looking for one trait to develop – if they can be developed – is perseverance. Once you set you mind to something, don’t let anyone or anything deter you from your goal. Don’t quit and don’t accept any substitutions. I’ll close with a favorite poem of mine by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.