Endurance of Will

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”  -William Barclay

Leading and sustaining high-performing and successful organizations is not an easy venture or one that is oft rewarded.  Type “successful organizations” into Google and you will discover mounds of research, strategies, and “essential” or “proven” practices for creating and leading just that type of organization (154 million results to be exact).  Yet, we have more stories of failed organizations than we do of high-performing, successful ones.  And for those that do reach the pinnacle, their ability to sustain their efforts is often short-lived at best.

When we drill down to what is found in the DNA of high-performing and successful organizations, we find many commonalities in their essential make-up, terms such as…alignment, commitment to excellence, focused, inspired, systematic, execution, accountability, effective processes, clearly-stated and defined purpose, results-oriented, effective communication, and culture of learning.

However, those structures, protocols and processes…alignmentcommitment to excellencefocusedinspiredsystematicexecutionaccountabilityeffective processesclearly-stated and defined purposeresults-orientedeffective communication, and culture of learning…fail to endure or even exist without strong and dedicated leadership.  Very seldom do we see high-performing and successful organizations that are lacking depth in the leadership department.

As many of us have learned from the popularity of the research on successful organizations in Good to Great, Jim Collins reminds us that it is not just about any leadership…“But the comparison companies also had leaders, even some great leaders.  So what’s different?”  And for Jim Collins and his research team, their data on organizations brought to the forefront that…“The good-to-great executives were all cut from the same cloth.  It didn’t matter whether the company was consumer or industrial, in crisis or steady state, offered services or products.  It didn’t matter when the transition took place or how big the company.  All the good-to-great companies had Level 5 leadership at the time of transition.  Furthermore, the absence of Level 5 leadership showed up as a consistent pattern in the comparison companies.”

What Collins and his research team provided with data was proof that went “against the grain of conventional wisdom, especially the belief that we need larger-than-life saviors with big personalities to transform companies.”

Rather, the good to great organizations from his study had what Collins called Level 5 leadership.  As Collins further explains in Good to Great, Level 5 leadership can be seen as an equation, it requires…


Collins highlights the importance of both sides of this equation in determining Level 5 leaders and leadership.  Yet, the importance of “will” and “unwavering resolve” is such a key characteristic of Level 5 leaders.  Collins explains that “it is very important to grasp that Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty.  It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great.”

What Collins and his team brought to light is an incredibly vital and often forgotten aspect of leadership…endurance.  Leadership endurance.  Just like great athletes…great leaders need endurance if they are going to achieve great things with and within their organizations.  We must acknowledge that many a great leader has energetically unleashed an initiative and/or program…jumped out of the gate with great resolve, vigor and determination…only to see that determination and resolve worn down and ground to a halt over time.  Often, after expelling great amounts of energy and time, they are left with nothing to show for their work and the work of those they lead.

Level 5 leaders understand the importance of endurance in their leadership.  They understand that it is not just about starting well…it is about finishing well.  The path of leadership is endlessly littered with those that started well and lacked the endurance to take it all the way across the finish line.

Time and time again, great organizations and great leadership models understand it, they understand the importance of leadership endurance.  Great enduring organizations like the U.S. Marine Corps.  The Marine Corps consider endurance one of their fourteen traits of great leadership.  And it is no coincidence that it is stationed last, as the anchor of the fourteen traits, defined by them as…

“Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship.  For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.”

The U.S. Marine Corps are a mission focused, or should I say mission “accomplished” organization.  They understand the importance of finishing, and finishing well.  The Marine Corp acknowledges and gives credence to the importance of endurance in leadership, especially if mission “accomplished” is the overarching goal.

And yet, as we look around our organizations, we see how few leaders know how to truly endure…when the energy from the inspirational speeches has worn off and the hard work is left to do…very few stay committed to finishing well.  Many lack the zeal or gusto necessary to endure.  They lack the commitment, fortitude, and grit to take their people across the finish line.  They lack the endurance necessary to finish well.  Remember, the path of leadership is littered with those that have started well…those that had great potential…those that were charismatic and charming…yet lacked the endurance of a true Level 5 leader.  Leadership is not as much a sprint as it is a marathon.  And a marathon takes takes endurance.  It takes overcoming pain, facing difficulties and struggles, if they are to carry it to the end, to finish well.  Anyone can start well, yet very few know how to finish well.

Remember, endurance is found at the end, not at the beginning.  End well, that is what people will remember…very few remember how great someone started.


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