The Grit Factor with Shannon Huffman Polson, Speaker, Author and CEO of the Grit Institute
Shannon Huffman Polson has worked with leaders in industries across the country and around the world on managing change, building leadership and grit, and planning for diversity. Shannon is founder and CEO of The Grit Institute, a leadership development organization dedicated to the whole leader approach to ethical and people centered performance in times of change and challenge. Shannon is the author of The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World, forthcoming from Harvard Business Review Press in September 2020. Before writing her book and starting The Grit Institute, Shannon was one of the first women to fly Apache helicopters, serving on three continents and leading two flight platoons and a line company. As a keynote speaker at business and corporate events around the world her clients have included Microsoft, Amazon, New York Life, Bristol Myers Squibb, the FDIC, and T-Mobile.
In this podcast, Shannon and Cindra talk about:
· How to develop your grit
· What it was like bring one of the first female Apache helicopter pilots
· How grit and leadership are connected
· Why your core purpose helps you be gritty
· Ways to own your own story
· Why stress is a good thing and how we learned this from the Navy Seals You can find more information about Shannon here: http://www.shannonpolson.com/ and at https://www.thegritinstitute.com/.
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Cindra: Shannon, I’m so looking forward to talking with you today. So, thank you so, much for joining us on the High-Performance Mindset Podcast today.
Shannon: Cindra. It’s such a joy to be here with another lover of grit. Thanks so much for having me.
Cindra: I know I’m like this is going to be a really fun conversation. I first got to know your work. Actually, a friend sent me your webinar link, and there was a webinar about grit that you did a few weeks ago with the Harvard business review which your book The Grit Factor is coming out in September 2020. So, just in a few months. So, I was loving the webinar. And I was like, I need to reach out to Shannon, and I can’t wait to talk to you, but also, just to help people learn more about what you’re doing.
Shannon: Well, thank you so, much. It seems like such a great fit with your work as well. And I’m grateful to have been introduced to you. However it comes.
Cindra: Exactly. So, give us a little insight into your passion and what you do right now, Shannon.
Shannon: Yeah. You know what I’ve been for the last number of years now really passionate about connecting to people and working on leadership and grit and I really do see them as connected, even though I think for some people they see one or the other. But I think when you when you exhibit grit, you are showing leadership and leadership requires grit and I find that many people that I work with actually are really looking for development in both of those areas. And so, I’ve been telling stories over the last number of years of leaders in the vanguard of their fields, they happen to be women they happen to be military and this all came about because of my own background, but really telling those stories to offer the opportunity for other people to enter into those stories. And gain strength from those stories as they develop their own and I really, that is the beginning of the grit factor, it’s the beginning of the training that I have that accompanies that at the grit Institute called going for grit. Which is really looking at owning your own story so, that’s been my passion for the last five years and going strong.
Cindra: So, one of the things that I think is cool about your background is, you’re one of the first women to fly an Apache helicopter. So, tell us what that experience was like. And I know you went to Duke University and you know you’re in the ROTC there and just what was that like being one of the first women to do that for the United States?
Shannon: You know I’m incredibly grateful for the experience, really truly and I worked with some of the best people that I’ll ever know. And some of the worst as well. There’s always a bell curve right and a large organization. But, that really was. And I’ll just say briefly that that was the genesis of course out the grit factor of the great Institute because a young lieutenant reached out to me about 10 years ago and asked me if I would be her mentor, as she began the process of entering flight school for the army. And I said, of course I’d love to do that. But I
realized, oh my gosh, like my experience is already a decade old I transition through an MBA at the Tuck School at Dartmouth and then spent some time in the corporate world as well leading and managing teams. And so, I wondered. Gosh, you know, my experience was so, unique is one of the first women in this particular time that preceded her is how can I scale the advice that she receives and then also, scale, the people to whom that’s available because this is going to be a lot of work. And that really was the genesis of what became the grit factor and the grit Institute. And it is stories like mine of many, many women leaders in the vanguard of their fields, often the only woman often fields that by themselves were incredibly challenging and incredibly demanding. And it certainly made my own experience gave me in a way, a sisterhood that I hadn’t had when I was serving and so, I’m grateful for it selfishly, but also, grateful to be able to honor these stories honor these experiences by passing them on.
Cindra: Yeah, so, there’s so, many things that we can dive into, I want to talk to you about grit specifically and how you started studying it. And what does it mean to you. But I also want to ask you about, like, what are you learning from these women? because if they are some of the only who, you know, have been in their field. What do you see is like you know the differentiator? And you know, I’m speaking from my experience, I do a lot of work in sport. I worked for the Minnesota Vikings for the last four years doing mental training. So, there’s a, you know, not a lot of women in the NFL. So, give us a little insight on like what is different about these women for them to be able to you know survive and maybe even thrive in in this space of that male dominated?
Shannon: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question, and it really is ultimately over several years of doing the primary research of these interviews. It really is what formed the backbone and the structure of the grit factor of the training going for grit and I’m finding is available by the way to individuals or to corporations our organizations, but, um, and what I what it really came down to is looking at this, this massive interviews. Several dozen interviews, then taking the secondary research that was primary in the fields of leadership in the fields of grit and resilience and then combining that to with some of the positive psychology that underpins the army’s Master Resilience Training Program and that was a decades long development in it’s making as well as you probably know, both for soldiers and for their families because we’ve had these multiple deployments and sustained stressors that are incredibly difficult on the military as something I think that we can all in a different way relate to right now, especially in this time. So, the idea of grit and resilience is particularly important, but what I really came out from understanding from these interviews and from my own experience as well is kind of putting this into three phases. We start with the Commit phase, the commit phases I like to say that you’re a leader when you make the commitment to excellence when you make the commitment to making a difference. Wherever you are, so, you might be the janitor or the administrative assistant. So, that’s okay. It doesn’t matter what seat you’re sitting in, you are a leader when you make the commitment to lead. So, that commit phase is really about owning your story and there are multiple exercises around this, and this is deep introspective work. It’s not kind of thinking about it for five minutes. It’s really doing deep work and then drilling down, not just a purpose, starting with why is ok but it doesn’t go far enough. So, really drilling down into what I think of as core purpose, which I think is such an important thing for all of us to do in this time,
but I think what was pretty clear was at the base for many of these leaders’ experiences that became part of the grit factor. The second phase is learning the third phase is launch. And learning. And this is something. It’s interesting because this came out of every interview with a senior leader. Essentially said that one of the most strategic leadership skills that needs to be developed that we don’t spend almost any time on is the art and the science of listening. So, in this learning phase this middle phase of learning. It’s really understanding that leaders listen first that leaders know that to be strategic they have to ask the questions they have to leave the space for the answer and not rush to the response. Right. so, there’s a whole art and a science to this. That is really absolutely critical, especially by the time you get to be a senior leader, but certainly something that should be developed, even at the lower, lower levels. And the second part is building your team your team matters a lot. You know, this in sports, but we none of us do this alone right and these leaders knew that they had to have a team. And so, we look at the different elements of what that team might involve. And then there’s building your resilience and building your resilience really is something that can be done right So, you don’t, you’re not just born with grit or not you, you can build grit. You can build resilience and that’s part of this learning phase, this middle phase of developing your own ability to get through hard times and to not just get through them, but to really thrive and excel. And the last phase then is launch and launch is about and we can come, we should come back to some of these because this is kind of where the rubber meets the road or where we take off into the sky, depending on which metaphor, you want to use. But it really is about authenticity and this is something that the leaders that were able to sustain themselves through a career understood in a way that I did not. For example, as a junior leader, right, there’s an there’s a and we should talk more about that one for sure because that’s a hard one for a lot of people and there is also, the ability to adapt and adaptability is maybe the most critical element for success. I mean, right now and anytime and that builds on all of those other pieces. So I think that’s one of the real Important parts to understand. And then finally, there’s this audacity and I love the word audacity because audacity is about being willing to take risks, being willing to put yourself out there and understanding that if you fail, that’s not the end. Right. You pick yourself up one more time than you fall, it’s not failure that matters. It’s what you do with it that counts and leaders understand that, they’re willing to go out on a limb, they’re willing to take those hard assignments, they ask for what they want, they asked for those hard assignments and ultimately that that is what leads to success. So, it’s a combination of those factors. Each builds on the other. In this commit and then learn and then launch.
Cindra: Awesome. So, commit, learn and launch. One of the things I want to hear is your perspective on maybe we should define what grit means for you right now. And when you were talking about the commit phase. I was thinking about like owning your story. Ooo, that’s so important, and I was thinking about how you think that connects with grit. So, tell us your perspective on that?
Shannon: Yeah. Well, and, you know, just as well. I’m sure that Angela Duckworth definition is passion and perseverance towards a long-term goal. That’s her definition of grit, I honor her incredible body of work around this in this field. And it’s interesting, though, because right now we many of us don’t know what the long-term goal is right. Because the horizon is constantly
shifting. You know, I have always defined grit since I started this work anyway. As a dogged determination in the face of difficult circumstances. And for the time that we’re in. I like that one better. Right now I will say, because that long term horizon is really unclear. And I think that is what is so unsettling for so many people right now, whether it’s personally or professionally. So, that’s, that’s where I like to start with a definition, but I do always ask that of the people that I interview as well and get a lot of great answers. So, where does that connect to owning your own story? I think, you know, the work that I have people do around story. And this is the first exercise. This is actually where I would tell people to start right now if they are feeling buffeted by turbulence and uncertainty and feeling frightened, because I hear that actually from a number of people and professional people say, okay okay, enough on the strategic stuff. What do we do right now because people are scared. Right. And I say, you know what the place you start is this commit phase and you can go back to at any point. And in fact, you should and owning your own story means going back and I like to do a lifeline exercise. Where we draw out your lifeline from birth until now. And of course, you’ll be looking forward with that arrow. And look at the events that had primarily a positive influence on you on the top part of the line and events that had primarily a negative influence on you on the bottom part of the line. And of course, anything of substance is going to be on both parts of that line. That’s okay. So that takes a little bit of time and then you start to go back and look at what values are represented by those experiences for you. And you’ll start to see a trend. If you do this if you go back and say, okay, well, maybe this is athletic performance. Maybe it’s musical performance. Maybe it’s a connection to wilderness or for me it’s a connection to service, right. So, what is that thing that comes up again and again. And this is not a specific activity. This is a value and then you look at those values and really say how do I understand my purpose in this? So, there’s a whole other exercise for core purpose but, what are those things that most are most meaningful to me as a person that most drive me as a person? This isn’t your company or not your organization but me as a person. How do I connect and find that source of strength that then allows me to contribute my best in whatever field it is that I’m working in or playing or flying in. And So, that’s really that work of story. And I think it’s that foundational work that gives you the anchor. When you are when you are feeling a bit buffeted when you are experiencing this turbulence in the air. Right. Hopefully you don’t have an anchor in the air, but a boat would want one. So, turbulence in the sea. And so, it’s that anchor that keeps you connected to what’s important and that allows you to pivot that allows you to change direction that allows you to even pick a different path, but you’re always connected to the things that matter most. And there’s a sense of security in that. But there’s also real meaning in that because that allows you, then, to do that contribute of work that all of us want to do for a life of meaning.
Cindra: That’s really powerful Shannon and I was thinking a little bit about owning your story right when I understand my story where I’ve got to where I am today. That also gives me more clarity on what my purpose is. And I think purpose evolves. It changes. And so, by continually connecting with your story, I think it’s also how you connect with other people right like I feel like I know you better just hearing your story and reading about it. And I think as leaders. It’s so, important because the vulnerability piece if we’re not telling our story. How do people even
connect with us? How do we build trust and relationship when people really don’t know us. But we got to know ourselves first.
Shannon: That’s exactly right. And, and, you know, when you do make that connection to that that purpose and your right, purpose might change. I’ve had people kind of be nervous and say, Oh my gosh, I feel like I have maybe two or 3 but that’s okay. That’s okay. It’s, it’s doing that work. And when you’re connected to your purpose, it’s easier to be more vulnerable in sharing your story, right, because you understand, everyone has ups and downs and mistakes and failures and successes as well. And so, sharing that story with real honesty and vulnerability, I think, is a lot easier. To do a lot less scary. It’s still scary, but it’s a lot less scary when you are connected to that core purpose and you’ve looked at that arc of your life.
Cindra: Awesome. So, Shannon, when you think about grit and your definition of dogged determination, the face of uncertainty. Is that what you said?
Shannon: In the face of difficult circumstances. But you know what uncertainty qualifies. So, there you go.
Cindra: How do you think, in your opinion, it’s developed, you know, I’m kind of thinking about people who are listening and might say, Well, I’m not sure I have that much girt, or I really want to improve my grit. What would you say is like, all right. How do we develop this?
Shannon: First of all, know that you can. I think that’s the first thing. In the end, it is a mindset thing right is the understanding that you can do that you might not have grit yet, right. It’s the yet at the end of the sentence. Yeah, so, I think the key is to understand and I went back to West Point a couple of years ago to speak. And one of the things we talked about is that if you train for push-ups you train for push-ups by doing push-ups right you don’t train by doing something else. So you train for doing hard things for getting through hard things for working through with grit. By doing things that require grit by doing other hard things and those should be incremental they should be small. And then you increasingly make them bigger and bigger challenges I you know, the story that I like to tell recently as I bike riding with my seven-year- old and I we were talking about building those ships in a bottle, so, I want to build a ship in the bottle and great that’s good squid. I’m sure we can find so, something like that and he said, but first I want to start with a rowboat before I do a ship and then I want to do a raft. I was like, wow, he gets it. Like, you start with so, something smaller and more well and then you build that up and then you build that up and take increasingly bigger steps and but what I do think it’s important to understand is if you’re in the midst of so, something that seems so, overwhelming that it doesn’t seem like you can go anywhere, taking that step in a different area of focus also, applies because the threat that we develop in one part of our life applies to the other part that we’re really getting stuck with. So, sometimes it’s better to take those steps in another area and then come back and return to the place where we feel stuck or unable to progress and then take those small steps there. Now, there’s a number of practices that are really specific towards building that resilience building that grit, but I would say the most important thing is, say, I’m going to do hard things.
Cindra: Nice, nice. I like to say that to myself like I can do hard things, like I was born to do difficult things so, I guess when I say that I’m developing my grit. I like that.
Shannon: Yeah, there you go. And then that mindset that when you do that you will build your grit like know that it does it’s scientifically very clear that that’s what happens. And so, just remind yourself of the evidence and move forward.
Cindra: Yeah. Nice. So, Shannon what I always ask all of my guests is to define what failure means to them. And tell us about a time they failed. And I love this question because this weekend. I went back and looked at, we started analyzing the differences how people define failure different and it’s pretty cool. But I’m thinking about, you know, your work, flying helicopters and just what you’ve been doing since then. But tell us what you think failure means to you and tell us about a time that didn’t go so, great for you?
Shannon: Yeah, that’s a such a good question and an important one. Um, wow, I would say that my first gut answer would be that failure is not meeting expectations. And with this, with the caveat that that that’s not because of some other extraneous circumstance, but a failure is not meeting expectations when I have control over that circumstance. And so, and expectations for me like they are for you and probably for most of your listeners means exceeding expectations. So, not meeting the standard but exceeding the standard and so, and, uh, wow I there’s, there’s, there’s so many examples of this. And for me in my life. I think I fail every single day. But I’ll tell you one that I talked about in The Grit Factor, which I think is a good one because it’s the only time it happened and I was so aware of being in what is essential, you know, was often described as official. When I was 23 years old I arrived, or I guess I was probably 25 when I arrived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and I was the youngest woman in the regiment of 120 male combat helicopter pilots and I knew that every single thing I did was being analyzed and that I had no room for doing anything but exceptional work. I mean I arrived there. I had cut my hair like and buzzed up the back, not because the army required it, but because I wasn’t going to give anybody, anything to say about why I thought I was different, or why I thought something should be different for me and I’m and I focus so hard on the work that I was doing I did it very, very well. And I knew the flying was really what was going to matter to the pilots, because that’s the job of an attack helicopter battalion. And I had always done very well all the way through flight school I graduated as an undergrad and I got to my unit and I had an instrument check ride with an instructor pilot who I liked, but he was very upfront about being uncomfortable about me being there, which actually sort of appreciate it, in some respects, right, it’s nice to know where you stand. He wasn’t unkind. Who just said, you know I’m not comfortable with you here. I’m not comfortable being in the field with you. I’m not and so, I knew there was this discomfort that he had. And so, I had this discomfort in return. Because I knew he was uncomfortable, and we went out to fly. He was an outstanding instructor pilot and instruments in particular. And so, instruments for those who are not, who don’t know is , well especially an attack helicopters. We’d only fly instruments really once a year for our check right and maybe one flight before that to get ready for it. It’s really a tactical helicopter that flies low and doesn’t usually fly with instruments, but we’re required to be instrument qualified and it’s
pretty tough like you have to fly, you know, without looking at anything but what’s right in front of you. You can’t look out the windows and it takes a lot of getting used to in the original training and then frankly in the subsequent training as well. So, I was getting ready for the check ride. We went out we preflight, we took off and in the afternoon in the so, and I was in North Carolina at the time. There are these huge thunderstorms and these thunderstorms come in and they go, anyone in the so, he knows about them actually in the Midwest, you probably do too. Yeah and there’s a lot of turbulence in the air as a result of that. And there’s also, a lot of heat in the summer. So, there’s enormous amounts of heat that come up off the fields that’s raising you right and then you come over like a ripe area, an area or a river where there’s trees and darker areas. And then, then all of a sudden it’s cooler. So, the result on an aircraft that flies relatively close to the ground, even when we’re flying instruments we don’t go too high in the Apache is that there’s a lot of turbulence and one of the requirements is to keep your altitude plus or minus 100 feet when you’re flying instruments and I failed to do that on this check ride. I did not keep it in within plus or minus 100 feet and you know you have to adjust for these things when you go out there, because you’re going to drop suddenly, and then you’re going to come back up and you have to make the adjustments in the helicopter, but we landed and I had not kept things within tolerance and I had never ever failed a check ride before and I was mortified. I mean, I knew that everybody was going to know this within 30 minutes of us landing and not because he was be malicious just because I was being watched. And I was been observed and it was really hard and it you know one of the things I talk about in The Grit Factor is something we talked about an aviation, which is that the requirements, once you fail a chec ride, is that, then you go take another check ride with another instructor and that one, then you’re grounded, and you have to go up through your progression from the beginning. Again, it’s a pretty big deal. If that happens, and so, I had another one more chance. And what I had to be able to do was to compartmentalize that day and to put it away to literally think about and they actually talked about this in-flight school, you think about putting it in a box. Sealing the box and sending it on the shelf and now you’re focused. That doesn’t mean you never take it off. It doesn’t mean you don’t go back to it and address it later, but it does mean that when you are in the midst of the action that’s required, you’re going to have to put that away. Now this was true for pilots that were going through divorces or had other kind of home challenges or any soldiers similarly, with challenges any of us that had other challenges extraneous to work that could interfere with the execution of that work, you had to learn to put it in a box and put it away. And my next check ride went very well and everything was fine, but I just remember the sense of mortification in the moment and almost paralysis. Like, I can’t believe this happened and I know everyone’s going to know this. And I know, and suddenly I was doubting my own ability and you have to kind of say, wait a minute. Let’s reframe this like I’ve always performed well I’ve always done my work. And I’ve always excelled and so, put this aside and let’s focus on the next step.
Cindra: Awesome. So, what I heard in that just how you moved on, is like you protected your confidence, you’re reminding yourself of the ways that you have been successful, that it was just like this one time. And then I like the idea of like putting it in the box. Like, I don’t need to think about it right now. I can process it later if I need to. But yes, move on quickly from that.
Shannon: Yes. And, and, you know, the reality is, all of those, that’s a hard thing to do. So, it’s not just like a helicopter and being like, all right, I’m going to be confident and go do this.
It’s some, it’s hard and it takes work and really focused application. But, again, so, something all of your listeners will be familiar with.
Cindra: Yeah, and mental strength. I was thinking about, like, okay, so, you’re sitting in the helicopter with the guy who says like, I’m not really comfortable with you being here you could have easily been like, yeah, this isn’t a place for me. So, I’d love to hear. Like, what was your internal dialogue that you accepted that. You didn’t let that you know like Impact if you were going to stay? kind of give me a sense of like what did you do, and I think for female listeners this is really important. But for anybody who gets this you know feedback that hey you aren’t supposed to be here, but you really want to do what you’re doing.
Shannon: Yeah, yeah. And you know the best story I have for that is actually not that one. But I’m going to back up a little bit because I had to reform it for me and how I would respond because this is the kind of thing that I would hear a lot over those eight years and have heard it subsequently and it’s interesting, right, but the story that I like to tell us when I was had not yet graduated from college. So, I was still an English major at Duke. I was still a cadet in ROTC I’d been drilling with the National Guard for two years as part of a simultaneous membership program. So, the assumption was that I would receive my commission in the National Guard and then receive an assignment for the years ahead. So, as a senior in college. I drove out to the state aviation office in Raleigh, North Carolina to receive that assignment and I reported to the aviation officer. He was a colonel, so, probably late 30s. If you sat behind a desk perceived as wide as his room with these shiny plate glass windows. Everything was very formal and fancy and you know, I was just turned 21 years old I was trying not to shake too much and gave a salute. And he asked me to sit down and then we exchanged a couple of pleasantries back and forth before the interchange that I will never forget, when he stopped in the middle of a sentence leaned back in his chair, looked down his nose, and said, You realize cadet that you will never fly an attack aircraft. And I looked back at him and I realized his comment for what it was meant to be, which was small and mean and cutting because at the time attack aircraft weren’t open to women to fly. And so, I looked back at him and I said the only thing you could in a circumstance like that which is. Yes, sir. And I went on to the next meeting, which was with the assignments officer and he was quite a bit nicer, quite a bit more civil and he picked up one of those old-fashioned phones that kind of had that little curly thing at the end. If you remember those and made a phone call. And he said, Listen cadet. This isn’t official but the battalion commander won’t allow a female pilot to be assigned to this unit. So, I said, Yes, sir. And I went back to the campus of Duke University went to the ROTC detachment and requested a transfer out of the National Guard and on to active duty. And then later that spring Congress changed the game on that Colonel lifted the combat exclusion clause, and suddenly every aircraft in the inventory was open to women and men to fly. And I thought that the sky was the limit and so, I went, then to Fort Rucker, Alabama graduated as an undergrad was assigned to Fort Bragg North Carolina as an Apache pilot and but at each step in that process I had to decide. I am going to own my story. I’m not going to allow somebody else to shape my narrative. I’m going to control my narrative. And I think this is something that came up with
pretty much every leader that I interviewed for The Grit Factor is that we’re all given the raw material of our lives. We don’t get to choose that in many cases. But we do get to choose what we do with that raw material and how it is that we shape that for success. And I think that’s what’s really important in that owning your story piece and reacting when somebody said, I’m not comfortable with you being here. You’re never going to do this. Why are you here is deciding, I’m going to own my own story I’ve earned the right to be here and I’m going to knock it out of the park.
Cindra: Nice. I’m cheering you on. I love what you just said about like, I’m going to own my story. I’m going to control my narrative and I’m thinking about the story of your past, but also, I’m thinking when you say that like your future story and just because it said that you can’t be here, it’s not going to you, you still get to decide if you’re going to listen. Or if you’re going to, you know, one of the things that I find this really interesting in pro athletes in particular, like when they are told that they can’t. It’s like the pro athletes who stay in the league for a long time, they turn that and they say, watch me.
Shannon: Yes, exactly.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s what I’m hearing that you did that it was like, you know, sure that’s your opinion but I get to control what I’m going to decide to do.
Shannon: That’s exactly right. And I think that has come up again and again from other leaders and it was certainly my experience both the sense of, like, I’m not going to quit. I won’t quit. There’s nothing that can make me quit nothing, but there’s also, this sense of exactly watch me. Yeah, right. And I think that is the reaction. And it’s a great reaction because that just fuels that, fuels the fire even more now. Hopefully you also, I don’t think that’s enough to fuel a fire, but it is a great fuel to go on top of that owning your story, your foundational core purpose, right, and not work right there and then somebody says you can’t do it like really? watch me.
Cindra: I love it. I just know for everyone who’s listening. Just take that that little phrase when Someone tells you can’t.
Shannon: Yes, that’s right. And my, my dad always said can’t never did anything so, for yourself be there.
Cindra: A few things from your webinar that I wanted to ask you about Shannon. So, I thought one really cool perspective that you had was like how stress can actually help us develop our grit and I think right now, you know people are under a lot of stress right now we had our first my family. Our first COVID case, you know, like, one of our family members tested positive for COVID, so, the last couple of weeks have been really stressful. And just like a little uncertain. We’re all okay but you know it’s also, given me a different frame. This just what everybody is experiencing right now and how it can be so stressful. So, give us a little insight on like what role do you think stress can play in our ability to develop our grit?
Shannon: We know it’s interesting because I just actually an old boss sent this to me, knowing the work that I was doing, which was some very, very recent research and I want to back up before that to say that I think I would have said before that stress is really good in the moment. And I think this research will back that up or can be good in the moment. The key is also, though managing that over the long-term, because I do think that we all need to take care of ourselves and back, way off sometimes. I have something I call the grit spiral which before you can get to the outside of that where you’re really innovating and creating you have to make sure that some, you know, If at some point, you’re not ready for that you need to come back inside that spiral and at the very inside is really taking care of yourself, things like eating well and sleeping well and exercising every day and connecting with your family. Those things have to be there for a sustainable management of stress, right, and a sustainable performance and at the same time what’s so interesting in this, I think many of us think, oh my gosh, that stress is going to age us all 10 years and we’re all going to you know, be sick for it and I think the key that came out of this most recent research and it’s a research about the Navy SEALs actually in the Navy Seals and their buds training, which of course is designed to be exceptionally stressful. Yeah, is that it has a lot to do with mindset. So, this I think is critical to all that we consider about grit and this is this mindset that hard things make us stronger. You have to have that mindset; you have to number one know that the scientific evidence is there. And then have the mindset where you understand, like, hey, this is hard, but this is going to make me better in the same way, this training specifically around mindsets regarding stress showed that when Navy SEALs went into the buds training believing that stress enhances performance. It did in fact enhance performance and significantly. So, it showed something like a 54% increased completion rate, better completion rate and actually better ability on some very specific tasks and very interestingly actually 60% fewer negative evaluations from peers, which seems to indicate much better cohesion and teamwork. So, the mindset that stress can actually enhance performance can help us use stress to enhance performance. And I think that’s absolutely fascinating. It’s, it’s so recent that it didn’t make it into The Grit Factor, But I think that’s really important, now other mindset issues did for sure that are related. And I think this builds on this growth mindset work that Carol Dweck has done that’s so important. But going into difficult circumstances, feeling the impact of stress with the mindset that that can make you better will in fact help you utilize that in a productive way and that’s just I think incredibly powerful.
Cindra: I think that’s powerful. It makes me think of Kelly McGonigal research and maybe you’ve seen her book called The Upside to Stress.
Shannon: Ah, okay.
Cindra: Yeah yeah
Shannon: I have not seen it so I’ll look for that.
Cindra: Yeah. Yeah. But I like that idea. And I think right now. I really appreciate what you’re saying is we have to, you have to take care of yourself. I think there’s this I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning a lot about what’s important to me and how to be able to adapt,
adjust and adapt my business, you know, so, there’s, there is a lot of like things that are positive, I’m putting that in air quotes.
Cindra: And what does that mean? But some good that’s coming from the stress that we’re experiencing.
Shannon: That’s right and you know the other piece and all of the research supports all of this as well. But is that where we choose to focus matters a lot. Right. So, this is about mindset. It’s about perspective. Yes, there are a lot of really challenging things happening right now and there’s no question we need to address those things in our own lives, in the lives of the people that we work with or that work for us. And the broader society, all of that is true. And this is not in any way take away from that. But the perspective and a focus on gratitude for what is good in this, like I’ve had my kids are they are they are missing their friends, but they are closer together, right, we’ve had much more family time I’ve been on the road less like focusing on those pieces that are positive. That focus allows you to tackle those bigger issues that still need to be addressed. And that’s so important. I’m so glad you brought that up.
Cindra: Yeah, and I think it helps us develop our grit. And yeah, help us you know, just a different perspective, stick with the things that we’re excited about. There was so, something else that I thought was a really cool perspective that you talked about in your webinar and you talked about how fear is something we need to turn towards. Tell us your perspective on that because I think that’s a really amazing, awesome perspective that all of us can use because there’s so many things that we maybe fear during this time period, but also, that we fear that you’re holding us back from our goals and really what we’re designed to do.
Shannon: For sure. And if it’s okay, I’ll just take you out onto the tarmac from my very first flight in the Apache for this.
Cindra: Okay, perfect.
Shannon: It sort of sets it up well, right. But I was, I had just finished flight school. I just graduated as an undergrad from the officer basic course in flight school and I had asked for and earned and requested a transfer into the Apache attack helicopter. So, I walked out on the tarmac on a winter day in Alabama. Down at Fort Rucker, towards the Apache that I was getting ready to fly. Now the Apache is a weapons platform and aerial weapons platform essentially right it’s 58 feet long. It’s 18 feet wide. It’s 12 feet high. It’s 4 rotor blades to 1800 and 50 horsepower engines that power this thing. There’s a 30-millimeter cannon high explosive rounds that slung from the bottom. On its wings, there’s any combination of the 2.75-inch folding scenario rocket and the anti-tank Hellfire missile on the nose are three different sites systems that allow it to see under day and night and adverse conditions. I walked out on the tarmac. On that winter day and I had chills going up and down my back. And they were chills of excitement, but they were chills of terror as well. But I wasn’t about to let anybody know what I
was feeling because I walked up towards that aircraft and I thought, who am I to fly this thing? I mean, I was an English major in college. And I had to decide on the tarmac, then that that’s when I was going to own my own story. Right. That’s when I was going to control my own narrative. And so, I walked out to that aircraft. I put one foot up onto the wheel, the other foot up onto the fourth avionics. They opened that all glass cockpit that opens up and out like a Lamborghini swung myself in and as we got ready, we ran up to the helicopter, we began to taxi for takeoff. I like to ask people if they know which way you take off in the Apache helicopter?
Cindra: I have no idea.
Shannon: Most people say up. And that is, of course, ultimately, the end goal, but in the Apache like in any other aircraft, you turn the nose to face the wind and when you sit the right way, the resistance will help you to rise. Now, I wanted to back up to that because when we get to fear and fear is a normal thing for all of us to experience right it’s completely normal. Every single one of us experiences that we all go through it at different times. Right now, maybe even more than most but anytime we face fear you just have to understand that fear is just another form of resistance. And you remember what you do on takeoff with resistance. You do the same thing with fear. You turn towards it and you fly directly through it. You’ve got to take a wave straight on. You’ve got to take fear straight on. And when you fly directly into the resistance. It will help elevate that aircraft; it will help you rise. So, that can be a hard thing to do, but the absolutely wrong thing to do with fear is to try to turn away from it to try to not pay attention to try to deflect it in some way. It doesn’t make it go away any more than that box on the shelf right. We have to be willing to turn towards it and fly directly through it.
Cindra: Awesome. That was a value bomb right there. Shannon: There you go.
Cindra: Boom. I love the analogy of the wind and like flying into the wind right like not trying to avoid it because you can’t and I was thinking about how fear is something right that we all experience. I don’t think we ever want to eliminate the fear because if we did, you know, we would make be making really unsafe choices right now. During this time period right if we were going to eliminate it. But I like the idea of you know it is a form of resistance and it’s like okay kind of this idea of flying directly into it and not letting it stop you.
Shannon: Yes, you’ve got to, you got to turn towards it. You have to define it, I ask people actually to write it down like right down right down specifically what it is that is that you’re afraid of and write down the implications of what you’re afraid of. And first of all, that act by itself. Take some of the power out of it. Right. It takes So, me of this unknown scary stuff out of it and then you start to do the same things you do with hard things. This is what grit is about right is taking one step forward just one action. Maybe it’s one action a day. And writing that down.
And I think that action by itself, taking an action taking eight like owning the agency to do something in the face of that and in in the direction of it is, is absolutely critical. And will take you farther than you can ever imagine.
Cindra: So, awesome. Shannon, when you think about. I know you talked a lot about grit and leadership together. Tell us a little bit about how do you think that leaders can develop grit like within their team?
Shannon: What a great question because that is So, something that is, um, is so, something that we all need to do right and maybe, especially now. I think some of the same steps that are outlined in The Grit Factor and in the training that the grit institute, which is going for grit. Which are for an individual work for a team as well and as a leader and I would actually take teams through that training, by the way, because I think taking that training together helps you to build that vocabulary and those muscles together and that allows you to then take that forward into whatever the challenges might be. But I would also, say that, the other reason that it’s such a great opportunity is that I just heard this the other day, actually. That their studies are showing that if you as an individual are standing by yourself looking at a mountain. It looks 20% steeper than if you’re standing next to somebody else. And I think there’s power in addressing a challenge as a team that’s where we need our own teams, but where we also, can bring our teams together to be able to address the biggest challenges with the drawing on each other. Strength right really drawing on that support that strength and those individual strengths that we all bring to bear in any kind of a given situation. So, I would do, actually. I mean, I would I would take your team through going for grit. Honestly, like I think going through those practices together really does allow you to form as a team. And then when you get to the places you know owning your own story grit your own core purpose. Those are individual exercises, but sharing that process helps you to strengthen and grow as a team in building those relationships and as you get into the learning phase. These are actually team exercises really right, like learning how to listen the art and science of listening. And building your resilience. Those can be individual, or they can be team based depending on how it is that you want to focus them. And then what it looks like to build your team who should be on your team who’s not on your team that should be whose team should you be on supporting because, by the way, that’s a really important element of success for you and for others. And So, those really are about pulling a team together. However, it is that you can see that you can do it on your own. But I think it’s even much more powerful as a team to be able to do that. And then I think going through those final exercises in authenticity in audacity and adaptability. Those are absolutely great opportunities for your team to take situations and be able to work through those together, to be able to figure out how they would work together to be able to pivot together to take a risk together to really be true to who they are and the and the values of the organization as well.
Cindra: Yeah. Oh, excellent. So, one final question and then we’ll wrap up. So, I know on the webinar we you know you already just mentioned, Carol Dweck’s work with the growth mindset versus fixed mindset with respective on how that is connected with grit?
Shannon: I mean, I think it’s integrally connected. I think they are. They are absolutely they cannot be separated and that is where mindset and I have this in the learning phase, really, in terms of the specific exercises that build on this, but where mindset is utterly critical to being able to move through things. I think you can probably gut through you know mile 23 of the marathon or the you know the one hour and the driving rain. You can kind of gut through that maybe without that mindset, but you’re not going to get much further than that. And that’s where Angela Duckworth definition of the long-term goal. And my dogged determination in the face of difficult circumstances extended right to something even intermediate term. To go more than just in the moment, you’ve got to have a mindset that it’s going to make you stronger or it will just wear you down, and ultimately it’s not sustainable. And I think what when you’re looking at leadership and you’re looking at grit. There is the in the moment grit that you need to have right that you need to find. Most of us can find that actually, if we’re right in the moment. Most of us will access that but what makes that sustainable in the long term, right? And what makes that sustainable in the long term is the mindset that it will make you better. It will make you stronger. It will allow you to contribute more meaningfully and ultimately that goes back to the purpose piece to right and so that mindset is utterly critical for grit to be sustainable for leadership to be sustainable.
Cindra: Awesome, Shannon I loved talking with you today. How fun was this? For people they can head over to The Grit Institute. And that’s where they can find your training Going for Grit your book, The Grit Factor comes out, just in a few months. And I know people can order that right now. I’ve already ordered my own copy by the way.
Shannon: Orders are great.
Cindra: Yeah, exactly, it helps you get higher on the bestseller list, I know that.
But you can go to your, your website to find that give us a little insight on where we can find you and then where you are on social?
Shannon: Yeah, great. I’m at ShannonPolson.com and my last name is P. O. L. S. O. N. So, ShannonPolson.com at thegritInstitute.com. Those are the two websites. You can find me on social at Facebook, forward slash Shannon Huffman Polson, and on Twitter @aborderlife on Instagram @aborderlife and on LinkedIn at Shannon H Polson, and I’d love to see you in any of those places.
Cindra: Awesome. So, Shannon. I really enjoyed talking with you today. Here is here is what I learned. Okay. The things I’m taking from today and I always try to finish this. with a summary so people can if they haven’t been taking notes, they can go back and jot them down now as, as we’re ending. So, I liked your three components, or three stages I think you said like commit, learn and launch and just the different areas that are in there. And I thought what was most fascinating is this idea of like owning your story. That it’s you know, owning your story in the past, maybe even doing like a lifeline exercise and thinking about your purpose. But also, like continuing to own your story and I really enjoyed your actual stories to help us learn through your personal experience and just how you took this like, watch me mentality that you went
forward and did it anyway. And I think that’s part of grit. You talked about failures not meeting your expectations but compartmentalizing it and putting it in that box. So, you could think about it later. But then, it didn’t impact you in the moment. And that fear is something that actually is just another form of resistance, Sort of like wind and we can, we need to move towards that not let it stop us. So, just doing something a little bit easy right like one thing that’s fearful every day, maybe keeping track of it, like you said, or define what that is so that we can kind of get it out of our mind and on paper. I also, really liked this idea of the grit spiral. I thought that was really cool. And just like what that means for us. We really have to take care of ourselves first and foremost. So, Shannon I’m grateful that you’ve been on the podcast
today. What an honor and I’m so grateful that our paths have crossed.
Shannon: Cindra. I’m so grateful to be connected. And it’s just fabulous to talk to another grit lover and practitioner. So, thank you so much for your time and the great conversation.