Leadership Insights by Kathryn Pollack

I have mistakenly viewed myself as a perfectionist.

I realize now that I wasn’t striving for perfection; I was striving for excellence.

Perfection is not achievable. Excellence is accessible when we dig in and get gritty.

Angela Lee Duckworth popularized the concept of Grit in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance but the construct dates back to the 19th century. In fact, as far back as Aristotle, tenacity and perseverance were viewed as virtues.

Grit gives us the ability to stick to long-term goals and keep going despite adversity.

To me: Grit is tenacity, resilience and a thick skin.

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Training to perfect a skill or striving for excellence in a field isn't a straight line. Things often get worse before they get better, and our tenacity keeps us in tact and helps us to persevere through the frustration of "sucking" at something until we master it.

During the messy in the middle phase, it is so tempting to give up, walk away, and blame outside influences on our lack of success or progress. Tenacity pulls us back, encourages us to ‘suck it up’, dig in and just keep going.

Without resilience, it is impossible to be gritty. The two go hand-in-hand and dance in a constant overlap. We need resilience to persevere and grit to be willing to push on even when it's ugly. This is why leveraging a growth mindset and a healthy sense of optimism (and humour!) is really important. We need to believe that skills are not born, they are built; and ultimately, if we apply ourselves and do the tough work, we can accomplish our goal(s). Project work and change management processes are always hard at the beginning. Practicing a sense of optimism gives us the willingness and courage necessary to step in and keep stepping in.

Having a thick skin is not about building up armour but about creating healthy boundaries and perspectives for ourselves that lead to positive outcomes. Unexpected stuff always happens when we are in the middle of a process that will ultimately lead to results, and this is where we need to dig in to our passion and tenacity in order to stick with it and avoid letting disappointments get the best of us. We need to learn from these disappointments and setbacks, and we also need to avoid the temptation to take them personally. Find a healthy approach to processing this type of feedback that will be constructive and lead to personal and professional growth.

I expanded my learning about grit from my kids. They were being taught all of these amazing concepts at a basketball camp from coaches and teachers who really understand the importance of mental strength. Imagine a ten-year old understanding the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and the importance of resilience? This gives me great hope for what this generation will accomplish!

How to build your grit:

  • Fight the urge to set things aside when they get tough. Growth happens outside our comfort zone.
  • Purposefully put a different lens on how you are perceiving situations. Choose to see possibility as opposed to barriers.
  • Build a thicker skin. Take criticisms and failures constructively not personally and grow from them.
  • Practice developing a growth mindset in other areas of your life such as a new hobby or skill, challenging yourself with fitness or a foreign language. This will cross over into business or your career, and you will be able to not only increase your passion but also your performance in these areas.

Enjoy the process of progressive performance – the messiness, the imperfection, the failures.

Ultimately, we push past the barriers as we learn from them, and take another step towards our optimal potential as leaders.

Kathryn Pollack, a keenly attuned and accountable senior leader who believes in bringing your whole self to each moment and everything you are to all that you do. Learn more about Kathryn here.



  1. Dana Caple on November 16, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    I’ve copied this to send to a friend. True grit ~ and thru it comes true grace!
    Thank you Kathryn ~ if we see it we can be it. Thank you for ‘being it’ for so many of us!

    • Murtaza Versi on September 25, 2020 at 10:02 am

      I like the way you define Grit, Tenacity, Resilience and Thick skin, thinking if it, it is just that. Mmm. Thank you for sharing

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