May 25, 2023 Culture

The Power of Tenacity in Leadership: Unveiling Its Different Faces

By Warren Thompson, Director of Product

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Inspiring Engineering Leaders to Embrace Diverse Forms of Tenacity

In the world of leadership, tenacity is a revered quality that often conjures images of loud, assertive figures driving their teams through force and intimidation.

However, true tenacity knows no singular form.

It can manifest itself in various shapes and sizes, inspiring greatness and achieving remarkable results in ways that may surprise us.

In this article, I want to share two contrasting stories that highlight the different faces of tenacity and its impact on leadership. From a drill sergeant’s boisterous motivation to a simple fishing trip, these tales demonstrate that tenacity can be loud, but also subtle and gentle, and yet equally transformative.

Story 1: Unconventional Motivation — The Drill Sergeant Who Shaped Me

I was not healthy when I joined the Army. I was poor and underfed my whole life.

The recruiter tried to fatten me up — but I almost did not make the minimum weight to join. It took me 25 minutes to walk one mile. I could barely do 10 pushups. I graduated basic training through hard work — but even then after 8 weeks I was only barely passing the minimum army physical fitness standards.

As I embarked on advanced training in the Army — the next six months after basic training — I encountered Drill Sergeant Royster, a formidable and relentless individual. DS Royster’s approach was intimidating, demanding, and often harsh.

This was the type of guy that you imagined a hard rock soundtrack following him whenever he burst through the door and started yelling.

Our relationship was tenuous, characterized by constant challenges and clashes.

Despite coming from nothing (and maybe because of that) — I was a cocky little private who wouldn’t shut-up.

In return, DS Royster seemed to somehow hold me back and single me out at the same time. He pushed me harder than anyone else, and I returned the favor by talking back and facing the repercussions.

What I failed to realize initially was that DS Royster’s unorthodox style of motivation was transforming me in ways I couldn’t have achieved on my own.

Although his tactics made me uncomfortable, I saw a pretty remarkable improvement in my physical capabilities. Things I didn’t think were possible. The relentless pushing and the intense training regimen he imposed upon me propelled me to achieve extraordinary levels of fitness. In the end, I was running 6–12 miles 4–5 days a week. I passed the upper bounds of my army PT test (called maxing a PT test) by running a 12-minute two-mile, doing 85 pushups, and 95 sit-ups.

To give context — that gets close to the same level of fitness of a lot of professional athletes. I was in the best shape of my entire life— something I didn’t think possible as a poor malnutritioned kid growing up.

While I still harbor frustrations towards Drill Sergeant Royster for other various reasons, I cannot deny the fact that his loud and boisterous approach got me into the best shape of my life and pushed me beyond my limits.

Story 2: Quiet Persistence — A Fishing Adventure of Patience

One of the cherished experiences I share with my stepson, Johnny, is our fishing adventures. Johnny has always shown a keen interest in fishing, and we’ve spent numerous outings together trying to land that elusive catch.

And this entire time I’ve made the excuse — people don’t actually go fishing to catch a fish.

A couple weeks ago, at Johnny’s baseball game, I had a conversation with John, Johnny’s dad, who had never been fishing before. He expressed a desire to learn. We all have a great co-parenting relationship, so I offered to take both John and Johnny out to the lake and I would show him the basics.

So, last Saturday, we headed to the lake, and I took the opportunity to teach John the basics of casting.

The next moment feels like it could have been written in a cheesy sitcom.

On John’s first cast, his entire tackle snapped off the reel and disappeared into the water.

The following attempts didn’t fare much better, with his casts falling short and line snapping repeatedly. Sensing the disappointment and frustration in his dad, Johnny put down his own reel and took the opportunity to show John how to cast properly. To our amazement, Johnny effortlessly cast the line much farther than either John or I could.

Despite the normal boredom that often accompanies an 8 year old on a fishing trip, Johnny was having a great time with his two dads — each with their own perspectives and unique experiences but united in their mentorship of young Johnny.

As we prepared to call it a day and started packing up, John decided to give it one more try and cast his line once more.

And then, finally, it happened — John felt a tug on his line.

We all started yelling! Johnny ran over with a net! With a burst of excitement, John reeled in his first fish, Johnny captured it in the net, and I proceeded to bleed it out.

That one specific moment encapsulated the power of tenacity and the joy of shared experiences.

John caught a fish on his first try. Johnny watched his dad do something that we both thought was impossible. There were grins all around.

And then we got ice cream.

Our co-parenting relationship, built on support and shared activities, played a pivotal role in creating an environment where myself, Johnny and John could all learn and grow. The fishing trip became a testament to the strength of our bond and the quiet power of reserved tenacity.

Story 3: The Engineering Leaders’ Co-Parenting (Co-Leadership) Journey

In the dynamic world of product development, the collaboration between a Product Leader and an Engineering Leader can mirror the co-parenting relationship. Just as I co-parent with John, my stepson’s dad, the Product Leader and Engineering Leader co-lead their engineering teams, making significant impacts on their collective success.

Imagine a scenario where a Product Leader and an Engineering Leader join forces to tackle a challenging project. The Engineering Leader possesses technical expertise, while the Product Leader brings market insights and customer understanding. At the outset, the project encounters obstacles and setbacks. The Engineering Leader faces technical roadblocks, while the Product Leader grapples with shifting market demands.

Despite these challenges, the two leaders exhibit tenacity in their own unique ways. The Engineering Leader, drawing from the drill sergeant’s influence, adopts a bold and assertive approach. They push the team, demand excellence, and challenge existing norms. Their relentless drive and determination inspire the engineering team to push their limits, resulting in groundbreaking technical solutions.

On the other hand, the Product Leader embodies the quiet persistence displayed during the fishing trip. They foster a supportive and collaborative environment, encouraging cross-functional teamwork and empowering the engineers to experiment and innovate. The Product Leader’s unwavering belief in the team’s potential and their ability to adapt to market changes fuels the collective tenacity of the group.

Together, the Engineering Leader and Product Leader demonstrate the power of diverse forms of tenacity. Their co-leadership approach motivates the engineering team, encourages collaboration, and drives remarkable outcomes.

Unlocking the Lessons:

These stories reveal invaluable lessons about the multifaceted nature of tenacity in leadership, particularly within the context of Product Leader and Engineering Leader dynamics. They underscore that tenacity doesn’t always have to be singular in form or approach. Instead, it can manifest in different ways, combining bold assertiveness with supportive collaboration, to propel engineering teams towards success.

Lessons for Engineering and Product Leaders:

  1. Embracing Diverse Forms of Tenacity: Effective engineering leaders understand the power of diverse forms of tenacity. By recognizing that each leader brings their own strengths and approaches, they can leverage the drill sergeant’s influence and the quiet persistence displayed during the fishing trip to inspire and motivate their engineering teams.
  2. Co-Leadership and Collaboration: Product Leaders and Engineering Leaders are co-leaders on the journey towards success. Just as the co-parenting relationship fosters a supportive and collaborative environment, engineering leaders can cultivate a culture of collaboration and empowerment. By combining their unique perspectives, market insights, and technical expertise, they can create an environment where tenacity flourishes and exceptional results are achieved.
  3. Adaptability and Resilience: Tenacity requires adaptability and resilience, both in the face of technical challenges and shifting market demands. Engineering leaders must encourage their teams to embrace change, iterate, and learn from setbacks. The ability to persist, adjust strategies, and keep pushing forward is vital for overcoming obstacles and achieving long-term success.
  4. Recognizing Individual Strengths: Engineering leaders should recognize and leverage the individual strengths of their team members. Just as Johnny’s casting technique surpassed our expectations during the fishing trip, each engineer brings unique skills and perspectives to the table. By nurturing their strengths and providing opportunities for growth, leaders can unlock their full potential and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

Conclusion:

True tenacity in leadership is not confined to a single approach but manifests itself in diverse forms. The drill sergeant’s boisterous motivation and the quiet persistence witnessed during the fishing trip serve as powerful examples. Within the context of Product Leader and Engineering Leader dynamics, recognizing and embracing diverse forms of tenacity can drive engineering teams to unprecedented success. By combining assertiveness with collaboration, adaptability, and a recognition of individual strengths, engineering leaders can create an environment where tenacity thrives, propelling their teams towards extraordinary achievements.

*Original post published on Medium.

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