Tenacity is one of those common attributes of most successful people. It’s often one of the key missing ingredients of chronic underachievers.

Truly tenacious people grab hold of an idea or a cause and refuse to let go until they’ve succeeded, or, until someone finds them passed out in a pool of their own sweat. Of course, what the external observer probably doesn’t know is the tenacious individual hasn’t given up.  He or she is just bowing to nature’s demands and refueling and rethinking while floating in said pool of sweat.

70-Percenters Lack Tenacity:

We all know the types…good talkers, quick to jump on an idea and really good at seeing things through all the way to about the 70-percent phase. After that, nothing.

I’ve known 70-percenters who are truly smart and genuinely nice people. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they have no idea how to finish.

Advice: provide feedback, coaching and a reasonable number of opportunities for redemption. If 70% doesn’t consistently become 100%, fire the 70-percenter. Yeah, it sounds harsh. Try and build a winning team or organization around chronic under-achievers and let me know  how that works out.

You Cannot Talk Someone into Being Tenacious:

You cannot teach people how to become tenacious through textbooks, lectures or sermons. And you cannot teach people how to be tenacious by talking or browbeating them into it.  Ask any parent who has ever struggled with a child not interested in putting in the extra effort required to master a difficult task or challenging subject.

The same goes for your employees.

Leaders Can Model Behaviors that Cultivate Tenacity:

Tenacity is all heart. Or at least it’s one of those attributes we ascribe to the heart.  It’s the childhood story of, “The Little Engine that Could,” translated into action.

You cannot teach someone to be tenacious in traditional ways, but as parents, teachers and leaders, we can absolutely model the behaviors that cultivate tenacity.

I’m convinced I learned the importance of tenacity from observing my parents in all manner of circumstances. There was no problem they couldn’t overcome. There were setbacks and disappointments, but these were always met with a firm resolve to try again, by applying new ideas and approaches.

As leaders, we are teachers and our own behaviors serve as guides to right and wrong, and acceptable and unacceptable.

5 Ideas for Cultivating Tenacity on Your Team:

1. Hire and promote for tenacity. Proper behavioral interviewing will help you readily identify those with stick-to-itiveness and those who fold like lawn chairs when the going gets tough.

2. Fire 70-Percenters. I don’t care how smart they are, you need people and teams that are committed to turning ideas into actions that solve problems and create value.

3. Quit letting people and teams off the hook. It amazes me how often leaders let people off the hook for the wrong reasons. Project setbacks, technical challenges, resource issues or political roadblocks are not reasons to give up. Leader, this is where you earn your keep, both from an accountability perspective, and from living up to your obligation to help people and teams navigate the vexing roadblocks.

4. Don’t let them off the hook, part 2-accountability is key. Effort is essential but results count. Ensure transparency on team and individual activities and outcomes.  We don’t get free passes and gold stars for trying hard and failing.  While initiatives will end and failing is part of learning, the stopping point or the directional shift must be based on good objective decision-making, not on someone’s or some team’s predilection to throw in the towel. Apply your rules of accountability fairly, visibly and evenly.

5. Capture the successes and create and celebrate heroes and legends. The great successes against overwhelming odds are the stories that begin to define your culture.  New employees look to these stories to understand how success is defined and existing employees point with pride to remarkable accomplishments.  Success becomes the bar by which all initiatives are measured and if you’ve done your job right on the hiring front, the good people on your team understand that achieving success requires focus, discipline and yes, most all, tenacity.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I love tenacious people and tenacious teams. While I don’t advocate the endless pursuit of failed initiatives (see my Decision Making Series), I do look for people and teams that have that extra store of energy and performance gear that drives projects to closure, turns ideas into actions and failures into opportunities.  If you are building for success, hire for tenacity and reinforce the behaviors that create winners.