The word grit is a word you hear bantered around from time to time and recently was a topic of discussion with a colleague. The word stimulates thoughts and questions for me about the challenges of organizational change activities in real time. To level set this conversation, let’s examine a definition of grit:

Merriam-Webster defines grit; as firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.

Think about the last change effort you experienced, is there one person you can call out who showed grit during the change effort? Is grit a part of our cultural DNA? These may be tough questions to answer, but they provide food for thought especially as you prepare for the next change effort on the horizon.

To illustrate grit in action, I summarized an incredible story about Command Sergeant Major (CSM) John Canley, USMC, Retired during the Vietnam war.

Gunnery Sergeant (at the time of the event) John Canley went above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam war at the battle of Hue in 1968 from (January 31 to February 6). Initially awarded the Navy Cross for heroism, the current Secretary of Defense Mattis submitted him for the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor based on those events in 1968.

On January 31, 1968, after his company commander was wounded, Gunnery Sergeant Canley under intense fighting in and around the city of Hue risked his life to recover wounded Marines and carry them to safety under heavy enemy fire. He received shrapnel wounds but had the presence of mind and grit to reorganize the remaining Marines and provide emotional support and encouragement during this intense fighting.

Then on February 4, 1968, Gunnery Sergeant Canley already wounded from the previous enemy engagement, was able to navigate to the top floor of an enemy-held position, drop explosives down on the enemy combatants, causing casualties, and forcing the enemy from their position. He rallied his troops through positive encouragement and selfless courage.

Finally, on February 6, 1968, Gunnery Sergeant Canley and his company took more casualties in the intense fighting. Through pure grit and determination he once again in the face of the enemy under heavy fire on two occasions retrieved wounded Marines and moved them to safety. (Ret.) CSM John Canley currently resides in California.
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So let me be absolutely clear, organization change activities (transformation, OD, etc.) aren’t even remotely close to the horrors of war, pain, and suffering. What resonates with this story of courage and commitment exhibited by CSM John Canley was his grit, courage, never give up spirit and attitude, positive encouragement, and his level-headed approach in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

Key Takeaways
1. Grit requires sound and steady leadership in the face of what looks like insurmountable odds
2. Grit takes courage and you can’t back away from the challenge as you seek to move things to future state
3. Grit requires words or deeds during the turbulent times of change — -those words of encouragement will keep the organization engaged throughout the entire change process
4. Grit can be exhibited by anyone in the organization no matter your level on the organizational chart
5. Grit requires an unshakeable foundation and intestinal fortitude
6. Grit is not being afraid of the unknown because it will stand in the way of achieving your objectives
7. Grit is about getting back up when you are knocked down because you still have unfinished business
8. Grit will manifest itself during the dark days of hardship–embrace the situation, step up and assume the mantle of leading, guiding, and delivering the change
9. Grit is about perseverance and resilience no matter the odds

Final Comments

The world is moving and evolving faster than most people can comprehend rationally, yet we are all part of a transformative process and look to others to help make sense of it. Organizational change requires senior level support, but is support enough to ensure successful outcomes due to change?

With that said, which individual or individuals will exhibit grit during the critical times of change to help achieve your outcomes? Maybe grit should be added to the list of traits organizations value in people, because it may be the key ingredient missing for continued and repeated success through organizational change.

Grit is intangible feature and it is something that exists inside of everyone when called into action they don’t’ let others down in the face of challenges or obstacles. They push through with critical thinking, determination and exceptional drive like Winston Churchill, Indira Gandi, Rev. Dr. Martin L. King and others. They exhibited grit in the face of adversity and guided others through tremendous change, because of their unwavering commitment and focus to see the outcomes they envisioned for the people they serve.

The next time you are faced with changes regardless of scale, look for the individual or individuals who have demonstrated grit in the past to help deliver change. Or maybe dig deep into yourself and show the grit you posses.

Reference, January 12, 2018