True Grit: Lessons in transformational leadership

By Diane Hanson & Michelle Troseth |

Today’s reality is full of unprecedented change and new experiences. We’re living through a global pandemic that has touched every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. The pandemic has demanded the end to business as usual while opening new pathways for innovation, like the rapid reliance on technology to take care of our patients and each other. Each week reveals stories about new technology to connect us and serve others locally and globally. It also has jolted our current humanity into understanding how precious human life is and how connected we are as humans.

Unprecedented times call for transformational leaders who exhibit noble intentions, have an innate drive to persevere, and the confidence to invite others along on the journey. Great leaders use “grit” to maneuver the current realities as they strive for and push onward toward a future ideal state. Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, says that having stamina in your efforts in the face of adversity, as well as stamina in your passion, are common characteristics of gritty leaders. Combining stamina with a never-ending love for what you do creates a playbook for success. 

We’ve spent decades navigating the complex healthcare ecosystem, and through failures and successes, transformed our approach to leadership. Here are eight lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Know what you want
It all starts with you. What is your personal vision of your future, and how are you taking clear action to live out that vision? Various methods are helpful to recognize that vision. The first step is setting aside intentional time to quiet your mind and write down your deepest desires for the next year. This is your wish list; return to it frequently and see/feel it coming true. Follow that up with writing 7-10 concrete goals with very specific action steps for the year that you can track in your planner on a three-month basis. Without a clear sense of knowing what you want, it’s easy to be lost in the day-to-day activity and lose your gritty edge.

2. Balance self & others
As leaders, we need to create balance in our lives and for those we lead. Take time out of your busy schedule to practice self-care, such as quiet time, personal reflection, meditation, and exercise. We need to be cognizant of those we lead, too. Providing others with flexibility and time for rejuvenation is critical to the well-being of others and the organizational culture. 

3. Lead with your strengths
Leading with strengths begins with understanding your strengths. An excellent strength assessment for leaders is available in Strengths Based Leadership from Gallup. The book comes with the StrengthsFinder 2.0 access code where you can go online, take your assessment, and get immediate results of your top five signature strengths. The book also identifies where those strengths fall within four core leadership domains. Gritty leaders know how to lead with their strengths and tap into the strengths of others to persevere.

4. Find your court of support 
You are not alone. During challenging times, it is helpful to have a mentor or coach in your court of support that you can turn to for guidance and help you think through next steps. Gritty leaders realize they do not always have all the answers, and they are open to learning from others. These are often character-building experiences, and it strengthens you as a transformational leader to be vulnerable enough to ask for support when needed. 

5. Cultivate your personal brand
Working on your personal brand is a great investment in yourself. Your personality, strengths, characteristics, and life’s experiences shape who you are. Knowing yourself and learning to leverage your unique characteristics allows for authenticity. In other words, do you! It’s equally important to understand what is motivating your actions. Mental intentions shape the way we behave. People will build impressions through interactions with you. Having a consistent, distinguishable personal brand defines you and creates trust in your leadership capabilities.

6. Create collective vision 
Creating collective vision requires a consistent focus on what matters most. It is tempting in today’s busy healthcare landscape to chase the shiny new object and bounce from one initiative to another instead of staying the course and managing the journey. Gritty leaders learn to look at vision as a long game, leveraging the competencies of the team and focusing on foundational elements of strategy while being agile enough to allow for meaningful pivots in team goals. Collective vision is a momentum builder and enables members of the team to align their individual objectives and celebrate shared successes. 

7. Persist when it gets hard   
What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you run, hide, change course, give up? Or do you find the strength to keep going? Persistence pays off when you set out to accomplish great work. Often, the best innovations or ideas are not well understood or accepted initially. Obtaining alignment on items like strategic initiatives, organizational changes, and financial support is often part of a long game strategy requiring a persistence mindset. Persistent leaders exhibit the stamina to continually beat the drum, repeat the message, schedule next steps, find a new avenue, and demonstrate the resolve to inch forward to achieve the end goal. 

8. Build strong teams 
Building strong teams is an investment in collective success. Getting to know your team members’ expertise, passion, personal vision, and career goals will set you apart as a trusted leader. Team members also need to know each other and build strong relationships. Once trusting relationships are established, diverse expertise and backgrounds can be leveraged in shared work. Relationships are everything. Gritty leaders leverage relationships to build strong teams.

We are certainly experiencing leadership under adversity today. Now is the time where leveraging stamina and passion will help each of us persevere and come through this as gritty, transformational leaders. We’ll leave you with these three questions to think about your true grit lessons:

  • What role have the secret ingredients of passion and perseverance played in your leadership journey? 
  • What are your greatest leadership lessons through the pandemic?
  • How will you leverage your true grit lessons in mentoring others? 


Diane Hanson, MM, BSN, RN, FNAP, is the CNO and Editor-in-Chief at EBSCO Information Services.  She is a member of Sigma’s Kappa Epsilon at-Large Chapter in Michigan, USA.

Michelle Troseth, MSN, RN, FNAP, FAAN, is the Co-Founder of MissingLogic, LLC. She is a member of Sigma’s Kappa Epsilon at-Large Chapter in Michigan, USA.

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