I love the story of Vince Lombardi. He is considered one of the greatest American football coaches. His leadership and motivational skills drove his team to win five National Football League (NFL) titles in 9 years - an unprecedented success. His strategies and techniques, in particular a set of 26 rules, known as “The Lombardi Rules”, remain an integral part of various leadership training curriculum to this day. As entrepreneurs and business owners, we’d often wonder, “What is that ‘one thing’ that we need - to be successful?” Is it more finance, more customers, better cash flow, a better team, or better government policies? Or perhaps we need to more knowledge or strength in numbers? It’s obvious that all of the above will help, but Lombardi has another take on it –
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”
I was reminded of the Lombardi story while listening to one of the TED talks the other night by Angela Lee Duckworth - a management consultant turned professor in psychology. Duckworth conducted a study into the American education system to find out why some students are more successful than others. She found that high IQ scores and social intelligence was not the reason separating successful students from those who struggled, but a personality trait known as “Grit”. She argued that Grit is in fact a more important predictor of success. Grit is a personality trait of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. In Duckworth’s study, this was a consistent indicator of success observed across kids in national spelling bee competitions, to adult cadets in West Point military school and sales people in business. In all cases, Grit is about good stamina, and sticking to the future for years on end, not weeks or months, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is about treating these goals as a marathon, not a sprint.
In Australia, around 40% of newly started businesses do not survive after 5 years of operation. There are many reasons and opinions behind these failures and high churn rate. The tough business conditions in recent years hasn’t helped, but considering why some businesses do better than others, I would argue that underlying cause for churn is not always attributed by external factors but our inner personality trait and will to succeed in our business. Don’t get me wrong, failures in business does not make you a failure as a person! Far from it! That's why my team and I created SavvySME. We love the entrepreneurial spirit we have as a nation – the sense and pride of independence, a can-do attitude and the courage to give things a go. Nonetheless, considering businesses that make it past the 5-year mark tend to survive a whole lot longer, I would suggest that understanding our true Grit and will to succeed can help us become more successful not only as entrepreneurs, but also in our personal lives, even at home – in our family.
When my family and I gathered to celebrate Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but sit pensively, admiring my mum. She is so full of life. She didn’t care for good looks or new clothes; she just enjoyed being with her family. But in amidst her laughter and light-hearted dinner conversations, it suddenly occurred to me that she has had such a hard life. My parents left everything behind in Malaysia and migrated to Australia so that my brothers and I can have a better future. But after only 5 years of arriving in Australia, my father suffered a stroke of the worst kind, which left him severely paralysed. He survived. For the next 12 long years, the rest of us especially my mum cared and nursed him at home full-time, until his passing a few years ago. My mum has Grit. She never gave up. Grit exists, even at home.
So where else does Grit exist? I find the study of Grit and human behaviours fascinating in the face of overwhelming calamity, tragedy or challenges, or in the case of Lombardi, winning and maintaining such a track record in one of the most contested title in the US sporting history. But Grit is just as prominent in winning a war. In 1944 during World Word II, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Winston Churchill led the Allied Forces’ invasion into Normandy against all odds and pushed the Nazi forces back into Germany. It was a suicide mission in the eyes of many. It was one of the most critical but fiercest battles fought, and this was what Churchill said,
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
So the only question remains, do you have Grit for your business? Can Grit be learned? Duckworth is adamant that we can, and that although our education system has somewhat deprived us of such learnings, we can do something about it. But where do we start?
Well, here is a selection of 11 of the 26 Lombardi rules to start with:
1. Ask yourself the tough questions
Are you going to allow your life to be controlled by the crush of daily activities, or will you live your life according to a purpose?
2. Look at truth straight on
Goals built on half-truths are almost certain to fail when push comes to shove. If you can’t act on your convictions in crunch time, then success is out of the question.
3. Think big picture
Link goals to vision, and be prepared to change with competitive environment. Never be swayed by minor setbacks.
4. Be completely committed
When you are 100% committed to something, you cut away all other options, and you cut away all rationalisations or excuses. 100% commitment means you leave nothing behind.
5. Work harder than everybody
It's the discipline of hard work and training that leads to mastery. It takes a skill from a conscious level to a natural level.
6. Lead with integrity
Integrity is character in action. Leaders must demonstrate same commitment they demand from their team. Your behaviour must be consistent and predictable.
7. Explain the 'Why'
Coach everyone, especially the weaker ones. In other words, no one in the team gets left behind. Start with the 'Why', not 'How'.
8. Be mentally tough
Hold on to your goals in spite of pressure and stress. In fact, seek out pressure that can’t be avoided anyway, and be re-energised by it.
9. Demand autonomy
Never confuse control with dictatorship; conduct yourself as a subordinate when appropriate. Figure out what you must control and delegate the rest.
10. Act, don’t react
Study the past, but live in the present. Never stop learning. By choosing to act, leaders can affect real and positive change.
11. Focus on fundamentals
Build skills, rely on repetition, and be prepared to seize the opportunity. Make your competitor react to you, not the other way around.
Running a business is hard, but with the right discipline and with an incredible will to succeed, you can be unstoppable. Do not ever give in to external factors or be swayed by set backs. Duckworth reminded us of Grit - passion and perseverance for our long term goals. The ball is now squarely in your court. The decision is now yours - to work hard and give it all you have. Are you up for it? :)
“I firmly believe that any man’s fine hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the fields of battle – victorious.” Vince Lombardi