Well, the professional hockey season is over and the Washington Capitals have the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to the team. But that is not the main story for many of the rest of us. Our story is composed of part magic, part luck, and what I like to call the “four qualities of heroic leadership.” Let me explain.
First, here are the “four qualities” – Compassion and Commitment, Competency and Courage. We see these four aspects of leadership in the Las Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Team.
Compassion and Commitment: I will let writer, Ben Shpigel, of the New York Times (May 22nd) start us off: “The Golden Knights play in front of fans who appreciate how quickly and deeply the team has taken to their adopted city after the tragedy of October 1st, 5 days before Vegas’s first game. The tragedy strengthened the Golden Knights bond with the fans, who found healing in hockey (emphasis mine), a respite from their grief.”
The number “58” was retired by the Knights organization at the beginning of the season in a tribute to the 58 who were murdered on October 1stat an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
So intimate is the connection between the team and the people of the Vegas Valley, that at the end of the fifth and final game of the Stanley Cup, the fans gave the team a thundering ovation. Commentator Ed Graney, of the Las Vegas Review Journal (June 8), looking past the final game of the season for the Knights wrote: “The big picture will stand on its own, ingrained into the fabric of this city, a team and a town and the impenetrable bond it will forever share.”
Competency and Courage: Here is Ben Shpigel again, writing of this expansion team that wasn’t expected to win many games in its inaugural year much less reach the playoffs: “No matter how many goals they scored (or did not score) last season, no matter how many saves they made (or did not make), the Golden Knights gathered for training camp before the season as equals – traded and exposed, discarded by their old teams, exiled to an expansion franchise in the middle of the desert. Disrespected and discounted, the Golden Knights coalesced around that snub.” Even their coach, Gerard Gallant, suffered a setback in his career when he was fired by the Florida Panthers in the fall of 2016; he is now a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the Year.
Compassion and Commitment, clearly; Competency and Courage indeed. This merry band of “Golden Misfits,” as the players call themselves, set professional hockey “on its ear” this year and helped the Las Vegas community grow in appreciation of itself. The team and its fans can be justly proud of who they are and what they accomplished this year.
Max Oliva, a Jesuit priest, has been a friend and mentor of mine for more than twenty years. He lived and ministered in Las Vegas from 2011 to 2017. He now resides in Spokane, Washington. However, he still works in the Vegas Valley on a part-time basis and was in Las Vegas on the day of the October 1 shooting as well as for the final game of the Stanley Cup. His main ministry has been serving men and women in the corporate community on the topics of ethics and spirituality, first in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and then in Las Vegas. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and ethics. His web site is: www.ethicsinthemarketplace.com
When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish – it is then that you must not hesitate.
– Dag Hammarskyold
In the classic 1969 Henry Hathaway movie,True Grit, John Wayne plays a drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal who helps a stubborn teenager track down her father’s murderer. In true John Wayne fashion, he demonstrates a most valued virtue: grit. It’s a short word with great power. Grit is tenacity, perseverance, stamina, sticking with the task at hand day in and day out, not just for the day or the month or the years, but for as long as it takes. Grit is about passion and purpose and persistence. Grit is about living life as a marathon, not a sprint or a walk in the park. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit is defined as “firmness of character… an indomitable spirit.” Those with grit know that everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.
It’s easy to start, but it takes grit to finish. While authenticity in leadership is learning to connect, to be vulnerable and open and humble, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a spine. Leadership without backbone, without grit, isn’t leadership at all. Leadership means, at times, the toughness to stand for something, the toughness to finish, and the toughness to refine our soul with the sandpaper of hardship.
When my grandfather worked three jobs raising eight kids during the depression, he modeled grit. When I watch my friends, colleagues, and clients here in Alberta display courage, innovation, and tenacity to get through today’s challenging economic times, I see grit. When someone sets aside personal gain to be beside an ill loved one through a long illness, I am reminded of the value of this precious virtue. Grit means seeing the task through, not because it’s easy or comfortable or self-serving, but because it is the right thing to do.
Here are three qualities that both demonstrate – and inspire – grit:
A COMPELLING VISION
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s unwavering persistence in fighting for civil rights, justice, anti-discrimination, and peace inspired a broken nation. An athlete training for the Olympics will persevere through the pain of getting up early, endure the hours of brutal workouts, and see it all the way to the end. Why? Because of the power of the dream. Thomas Edison allegedly tried 10,000 times before succeeding in his light bulb. A gritty undergraduate college student will study long into the night, night after night, with the vision of becoming a doctor. A young entrepreneur endures the challenges and setbacks of failures to find a way to bring her vision to the marketplace. A recovering alcoholic, with a vision of self-respect and a commitment to the wellbeing of his family he loves, will muster the grit to stay with he program. It’s a captivating vision, along with a profound and sustaining commitment to that vision, that inspires and awakens the human spirit.
Theodore Roosevelt, a true exemplar of grit, spoke of overcoming fear by embracing it with vulnerability and courage in an address at the Sorbonne in 1910.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…
It takes courage to dream, and even greater courage to persist in the realization of that dream. It takes courage to identify the habits that will create and realize your dream, and even greater courage to get up early and implement those habits and ignore a thousand possible excuses to stay in bed. It takes courage to keep making progress, to keep setting new standards, in the midst of the world telling you to settle for conformity and mediocrity.
Courage, however, isn’t always apparent. You can’t always see courage, nor can courage be accurately assessed by anyone else. It takes courage to finish a marathon, and sometimes it takes courage to stop. It takes courage to build a business, and it takes courage to find other priorities in your life. It takes courage to do a job right, and it takes courage to let go of perfection, and instead allow excellence to be your standard. It takes courage to get back on the proverbial horse, and sometimes it takes courage to walk away from the horse. It takes courage to stay in a relationship, and sometimes it takes courage to leave a relationship. It takes courage to love, and it takes courage to let go. Courage, a quality vital to grit, is developed with practice and identified by a well-tuned conscience.
Jeff Clark, President of Kitchen Partners Ltd. in Edmonton believes, “there are two kinds of people in the world: ‘me’ people and ‘we’ people.” My conversation with him got me thinking that ‘me’ people turn grit into greed. Without the ‘we,’ without humanity and a dedication to the greater good, grit turns into obsession and narcissism. Grit without caring isn’t grit at all. Grit without compassion is bullying and tyranny.
Grit combined with caring is character. As I write in my book, Caring is Everything, caring enriches every facet of our lives. Grit is caring enough about someone or something to persevere. Grit is caring so much that you’ll do whatever it takes. If you care enough, you will find the grit. If you can’t find it in you to dream, maybe all you need to inspire grit is to care.
Grit, like other qualities of character, cannot be “taught” to others like you teach algebra or organic chemistry. Grit, however, can be “caught.” It can be discovered. It can be fostered in the cultures where we work and live if we take the advice of Albert Schweitzer, the theologian, philosopher, and physician:
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing”.
Over the winter, my wife, Val and I took time to transplant trees and repot houseplants. It’s been good for me to slow down and spend some time working with soil, getting my hands dirty and connecting to the land, reminding me of the value farmers bring to our culture. I’ve been learning from Val, our resident plant expert, that a healthy root system is necessary to ensure a robust plant. Through their natural intelligence, plants know this and develop extensive roots before their energy is transferred into growing foliage. You’ll see this in a houseplant that will get root bound in a pot before they flourish above the ground. The root system is first developed in the dirt, thus enabling the plant to support its growth above the surface.
Leadership is like that. The source of what is manifested in the world is not seen by the world. Like a plant, whose strength and energy come from its roots, the strength and energy of a leader comes from within. A good life – through a person’s roots – precedes good leadership. Below is a short list of what a good life means to me, and the roots that will sustain and support you to do the work that you are called to do.
- Clarity. Clarity is about living your life by design rather than by default. Living without clarity is like embarking on a wilderness journey without a compass. Any way will get you there if you don’t know where you are going. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare and precious achievement. You’ll be told in a hundred ways what is expected of you and what is needed of you to be a success. The real discipline in life comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
- Courage. If you have ever walked through something that frightens you, and you grew through to the other side, you know that courage is inspiring. It inspires you and it inspires those around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and walking through it. There have always been courageous men and women who have been prepared to die for what they believe in. What do you care enough about to give your life for?
- Character. If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.
- Calling. Calling is a devotion to a cause beyond you. It is inspiring to be around people who have a dedication to a cause they care about. When you feel an internal calling, a deep sense of pursuing what you are meant to be pursuing, you take a step toward completeness in your life. “A musician must make music,” wrote Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, “an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.” Whether you are paid or not to express your calling, a good life requires you listen and respond.
- Contribution. When we come to the end of our days on this earth, we take no material thing with us. It’s not what we have gained for ourselves but the contribution we have made to others that makes life meaningful. It’s not what we get from life that has the greatest most lasting reward. It’s what we give. A good life requires a generous spirit and a giving heart. A life of contribution is a good life.
- Connection. After three decades of observing and learning from thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations and in every walk of life, I finally understand what my parents tried to teach me more than forty years ago. In an interdependent world, everything is about relationships. It’s not all about models or strategies or programs or the latest technology. Whether you are a CEO building a company, a middle manager leading a division, a supervisor ensuring results on your team, a front-line sales person, a customer-service representative, or a parent attempting to develop capable young people, leadership is all about making contact and building connections. And caring is at the root.
- Centering. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. For me, a good life is built around a spiritual center that I constantly seek and return to. From this foundation I find security amidst uncertainty, serenity in the middle of success and failure, stability among the fleeting emotions of happiness and sadness. It is this center that sustains me and provides connection in loss, humility in achievement, perspective in chaos, strength in weakness, and wholeness in fragmentation.
It’s an exciting time to be living in this wondrous world. What concerns me is the possibility that our efforts to continuously improve and advance everything will create a society that is actually less satisfying to live in. Every day we have an opportunity to invent a new world through the choices we make. Not just in a narrow economic sense, but also in a broader human sense: for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.
What does a good life mean to you, and how does living in accord with what matters to you make you a better person and a better leader?