How Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year relates to leadership

Cambridge Dictionary’s word of 2021 is – drum roll please – perseverance. Not for the reasons you may be thinking… It’s not COVID related, although it could be…

The high number of dictionary searches related to NASA’s Perseverance Rover which landed on Mars 18 February 2021. This Rover was named by a seventh-grade student through an essay competition, and its mission is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and soil.

Perseverance is an important ingredient of leadership. It takes perseverance to:

  • Learn a new skill. When I teach coaching capabilities to leaders, their first attempts at using the shiny new skills are often clumsy. It takes practice and perseverance to add a new capability to your leadership tool kit.
  • Communicate change. We need to put our messages out there consistently over time to ensure the idea is heard and understood by the audience. According to Adam Grant in ‘Originals’, it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 exposures to a new idea before someone is able to really wrap their mind around it.
  • Lead with patience and compassion through times of high uncertainty. Haven’t we all learned that in the last two years???

Like all strengths, perseverance if dialled up too high can also become a leadership weakness. Perseverance can limit your leadership effectiveness when you are not choiceful about when to persevere and went to let go.

Not everything should be progressed to the end… When a team member is causing ongoing disruption, and you have coached for clarity and opportunity, it might be better to let them go rather than persevere. When you have emotionally and mentally checked out of a role (or a relationship), and yet you hang in there, might it be time to leave? When you have thrown all the resource you have at a project and it’s still not over the line, is it time to ignore the sunk cost and pull out?

How choiceful are you about perseverance? When might a little more grit make you a more effective leader? And where might you be better served making a decision to let go?

Go Fearlessly.