Developing Leadership Grit (Part 2): Resilience or Retreat

Grit – noun. Firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck.–

It always seems impossible before its done

–Nelson Mandela

As an aspiring young writer, she was just six years old when she wrote her first book. It was a story about a rabbit. Her first novel came along at the age of eleven about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. As a divorced single mom, she was once so poor that she relied on welfare to make ends meet. If ever there was a person with the odds stacked against them, it was her. Yet in spite of all of the adversity and hardship she faced, she had an indomitable spirit within her. Yes, J.K. Rowling had grit.

Her Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone manuscript was rejected twelve times by the Bloomsbury London Publishers. Yes, you read that right – the book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Since then, J.K. Rowling’s books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide in 80 languages. Her net worth is estimated at more than $1 billion dollars. From humble beginnings to one of the richest women in the world, J.K. Rowling is a profile in grit.

Rowling once said, “I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do ever- was write novels”. And it was grit, in the face of twelve rejections and a myriad of personal challenges that allowed her to do just that. Her contributions through her books instilled a love for reading in a whole generation of children and adults alike.

In your leadership, there will come a time in which you will have to face down your fears and rejections. It will take grit. Most goals and dreams require it.

As I stated in the first article in this series, developing leadership grit is a growth process. My best advice? Begin with the basics. Before diving into the next principle, let me remind you of leadership grit principle # 1 – Give up or grow up. If grit teaches us anything it’s this – when adversity comes our way this our choice. We can throw in the towel and quit or grow in our leadership and face our obstacles. No one promised smooth sailing which means that sometimes grit is the best card you’re holding in your hand and if played right is all you need.

Leadership Grit Principle # 2 – Develop resilience or retreat

In leadership, as in life, you will have to develop resilience in order to succeed. Even then, you will have setbacks and failures- just like J. K. Rowlings who was rejected twelve times before her first book was published.

In his book, Failing Forward, John Maxwell states, “Successful people have learned to do what does not come naturally. Nothing worth achieving comes easily. The only way to fail forward and achieve your dreams is to cultivate tenacity and persistence”.  And this is one of the hallmarks of grit – doing what does not come naturally.

The challenge here is not to see resilience simply as raw emotion or willpower. Think how different your outcomes would be if you saw resilience in a broader context if attached to your life’s greater purpose.

Would your outlook be different if you saw resilience, not as a survival mechanism but rather the life-blood of healthy relationships, mutual accountability, and a purpose greater than yourself? How do you think this would impact you as a leader? Your organization?

Here’s the key- by myself my resilience has its limits. But when joined together with like-minded people the energy is multiplied. By myself, I might have a few wins. When joined with others, I can have many.

At the end of the day, you can choose resilience or retreat. Your choice will make all the difference in the world.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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