Developing leadership grit: Ingenuity or insignificance

Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another. — Angela Duckworth
As with many innovations, the originator of 3M’s sticky yellow Post-its didn’t know what he had at first. Researcher Spence Silver was curious about what would happen if he mixed an unusual amount of monomer into a polymer-based adhesive he was working on.
The result was an adhesive that would “tack” one piece of paper to another and even restick, without leaving any residue on the second piece of paper.
The company had no use for the adhesive until 3M chemist Arthur Fry began having problems in the choir loft. The slips of paper he used to mark pages in his hymnal often fluttered to the floor, leaving him frantically searching for his place. Then he remembered Silver’s adhesive. Fry’s better bookmark soon metamorphosed into the handy Post-its that have become fixtures in offices and homes around the world.
Today, 3M is valued at more than $100 billion and I’m sure Post-its is one of the main reasons why.
Throughout this series Leadership Grit, we’ve looked at how grit separates lasting leaders from those who are like shooting stars — brightly on the scene for a while before they burn out. Grit is the difference-maker.
Before diving into the new leadership grit principle, let’s recap what’s been presented to this point.
Leadership Grit Principle No. 1: Give Up or Grow Up
Leadership Grit Principle No. 2: Resilience or Retreat
As you develop your leadership grit, you will be faced with those choices. Developing grit is a process and is something you develop over time. So let’s take a look at our next principle.
Leadership Grit Principle No. 3: Ingenuity or Insignificance
The Post-it note was developed in part by an act of ingenuity. It had been tinkered with inside the company in the beginning, but it was the ingenuity of one of its researchers, in attempting to solve a problem, that put the idea for the Post-it over the top as a successful marketable product.
Post-it notes were not the only invention that was stumbled into by accident. Did you know that penicillin, the slinky, corn flakes, Teflon, and popsicles are among numerous inventions that were created by accident? 
As it pertains to the role of grit in your leadership or in any other venture, ingenuity or creativity is essential. Being able to look at things in a new way or light is crucial to your success.
Angela Duckworth is perhaps the leading voice on the topic of grit. In her acclaimed book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” she states, “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won.” 
You are never more than one moment of creativity away from an idea or solution that can completely change your course for the better. But those moments will never come for you if you give up. Grit in leadership is digging deep and sticking with it even when others have long since given up. 
A best practice for developing grit is to play the long game. Be open to searching for new or different solutions to the challenges you face. Harness the power of a shared grit mindset that pulls together the best and brightest around you. It’s important that as a leader you have a grit mentality, but it shouldn’t operate in a vacuum. 
Grit survives and thrives with ingenuity. Without it, it can lead to insignificance. As Duckworth says, “Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done, but didn’t.” 
Grit will require effort, but it will always be worth the effort.
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part series. To read the other installments, go to
©2021 Doug Dickerson.

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