The aspiring leader needs to learn to persevere in inluencing others to share his or her new direction. In the ield of engineering, and in that part of the business world that depends heavily on scientists and engineers, moving in a new direction has a higher probability of failure than is found in many other ields. People in those environments who are being asked to change direction and to develop new products or new technologies are being asked not only to make change but also to accept a higher level of risk should the new direction not yield the results envisioned by the leader. As a consequence, the leader must be tenacious when confronted with objections and disappointments.
The example of a scientiic leader, an agent of change, a tenacious role model leader that is personally meaningful to me is Francis Crick. He and his associate James Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA:
The major credit Jim and I deserve is … is for selecting the right problem and sticking to it. It's true that by blundering about we stumbled on gold … We could not see what the answer was, but we considered it important that we were determined to think about it long and hard, from any relevant point of view. I recollect him saying the words above in a room at Cambridge University in 1962, on the day he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or shortly thereafter, I cannot remember. I was a postdoctoral student, and he was already a famous scientist, and he had agreed to speak informally to a group of us about scientiic research. I was prepared for philosophy that evening, but what we got was an exuberant Francis Crick, full of himself, humorous, and telling his story of perseverance and extraordinary success.
Reading my notes from that evening again and from the perspective of a leader, I see the vision of the scientist, the shared purpose of collaborators, the results achieved from a long and tenacious journey that changed the world forever.
There is a difference between tenacity and stubbornness, just as there is between courage and recklessness. A role model leader fully understands all aspects of both the current state and the future state he or she is proposing. A detailed understanding, fully researched, with all options examined, will minimize the potential for missteps when the future is being envisioned. In this sense, tenacity – be it rooted in logic or emotion – is a positive attribute for a role model leader, provided that the target of that tenacity has been justiied through preparation. Conversely, a leader who has not prepared well, or who does not understand the situation well, is merely stubborn or reckless and is not a role model leader.
Ask an entrepreneur whether she is a risk taker. She will probably smile and say she has taken the risk out of entrepreneurship and replaced it with knowledge. Only fools take unnecessary risks; entrepreneurs and role model leaders focus on solid preparation and thorough knowledge. Only then do they tenaciously urge others to follow their direction.
Even the best-prepared role model leader needs courage. Change, especially transformational change, requires it. The future can never be predicted with perfect accuracy, so the role model leader must be willing to accept some prudent risks. As well, once a risky decision has been made, that leader needs to demonstrate to her followers that she is working hard to learn as much as possible in order to minimize risk and maximize reward and that she is prepared to implement aggressively and with conidence. Even after a plan has been prepared well and the situation is thoroughly understood, there will be risk. To summarize, role model leaders prepare well and then have the courage to carry out their plans.
Tenacity, to me, means strength of purpose. Leaders behave in purposeful ways. Their role is to determine future state direction, and that direction often asks others to change how they do things. Leaders must have a strong will as well as steadfastness when faced with objections and opposition. Role model leaders do not second-guess themselves. They are decisive. They take action, learn from their successes, and especially learn from mistakes when they happen. Role model leaders treat mistakes as means to improve quickly, not as excuses for indecision. For them, lessons taken from mistakes are gifts, not wounds. Mistakes are never welcome, but you should not fear them as long as you know how to learn from them.