What, or who, do you think of when someone is described as tenacious?  How do you define tenacity?


Tenacity is often misinterpreted as motivation or as a will to succeed.  However, it is slightly more nuanced than that.  People see raw toughness and blind determination and often interpret these as tenacity.  Both are easy to see and easy to interpret as tenacity.


Tenacity, however, is not just mental toughness.  Mental toughness, though, is a bit fragile without it.  Tenacity is the link between your intentions and your actions, especially when there are pressures to give up or change your actions.  It is the part of you that keeps going despite these pressures.


Tenacity Underpins Resilience

If you have read some of my earlier articles in this Resilient Leadership series, you will know that resilience is built upon a range of learnable skills including focus, control, emotional stability, patience and a growth mindset.


The truly resilient leader will have developed her tenacity, because it is difficult to be truly resilient without it.  This enables her to act on her objectives and daily leadership challenges using her full range of resilient leadership skills in most situations, dealing with setbacks and obstacles while sticking to her plan with confidence.


This is far from how many of us perceive tenacity, as indicated above.  We often perceive a person pushing through the pain barrier with gritted teeth and a determined expression.


Instead, the tenacious person is calm and focused, stepping back to gain perspective, and analysing the situation before deciding on the best path forward.  This is how the learnable skills that make up resilience should be practiced.


Resilience needs tenacity.


Tenacity Builds Resilience

Mental toughness does not work without tenacity.  Tenacity enables the resilient leader to consider the situation, gain perspective, focus, develop a plan and then stick to that plan with confidence.


Danny Murphy, BBC Football Correspondent and former Liverpool midfielder, spoke about resilience and tenacity in his column on 15/12/23.  He wrote:


“I see a calmness and confidence about them now even when they are having bad spells in games which was not evident when they went on a poor run last season, and seemed to be doubting themselves.

I think that is another way of describing resilience, really, because that comes in different forms. It’s not all about tenacity or fighting to the end, it’s about believing that what you’re trying to do will work.

With this Liverpool side, that means getting the ball to the players who can hurt the opposition, wearing teams down with their athleticism and continuing to make chances.”

It is clear what Danny is trying to say here, though he slightly confuses the definition and application of tenacity.  He is correct in identifying the ‘calmness and confidence’ but seems to then confuse that by suggesting that Liverpool simply wears teams down with their ‘athleticism’.  This seems to link tenacity to the ‘force of nature’ type players or old-school blood and thunder types who huff and puff until they find a way through by sheer willpower.


This is a common trap when we talk about tenacity, though it is clear that Danny Murphy does not fully fall into it.  His definition of tenacity right in the middle of the quote above is far more accurate:

                “it’s about believing that what you’re trying to do will work.”

This is tenacity.  This is where the tenacious and resilient leader finds her confidence to stick with her plan.


Listen to the interviews given by successful teams, individuals and managers/coaches.  They talk about “sticking to the process”, “learning” and “problem-solving” during a game.  Liverpool don’t simply wear teams down with their athleticism.  They have a process and a plan to use that athleticism among other attributes to win a game.  Like other high-performing teams, they will not panic when things aren’t exactly working out as planned.  They will step back a little, observe the game and work to solve the problems they are facing while sticking to the plan.


For example, the Limerick Hurling team constantly referred to the process and problem-solving on the pitch during a historic game for them and they were losing.  Win this game and they achieve legendary status.  Under this pressure, they struggled at times to achieve their usual flow.  Yet, tenacity meant they didn’t panic.  It enabled the players to calmly observe, form solutions, and focus on applying these while sticking to the processes they planned.  They won.


The Tenacious Leader

Tenacity is an invaluable skill for leaders and managers, offering many benefits including:


  1. Tenacious leaders set challenging goals for themselves and their teams and can maintain focus on these goals despite obstacles and setbacks.


  1. A tenacious leader remains calm, controlled, and focused in times of crisis, leading by example and demonstrating how to overcome challenges.


  1. They tend to have a larger perspective because they can step back from any situation and observe, taking in the bigger picture and enabling them to embrace and adapt to change as an opportunity for growth.


  1. Leaders with tenacity serve as role models for their team, providing motivation and setting a positive and resilient culture, inspiring a similar mindset among team members.


  1. Tenacious leaders maintain a long-term vision, even during challenging times. They are less likely to be distracted by short-term challenges, encouraging focus on larger strategic goals.


  1. When team members observe a tenacious leader focused on goal achievement, working hard, leading the way on overcoming challenges and learning from setbacks, a sense of respect and trust is fostered.



Tenacity is a Learnable Skill: 5 Actions

All of the resilience-building skills addressed in this Resilient Leadership series are learnable skills.  They can all be learned through practice and attention.


Tenacity is also a learnable skill:  try the 5 easy-to-apply actions below to get you started on building your tenacity.


  1. Set clear goals – define short-term and long-term goals, broken down into manageable steps. Create a roadmap to achieve them.


  1. Goal-related habits – identify the behaviours needed to achieve your goals and control what happens along the way. Practice these behaviours until they become habitual.


  1. Develop a growth mindset – learn to view challenges, setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.


  1. Keep a tenacity journal – at the end of each day, reflect on key events that frustrated you or made you think of giving up on a task or project. Write these down and create a written strategy to deal with each more effectively next time.


  1. Tenacious support system – network and build relationships with other tenacious people. Learn from their behaviours, actions, and attitudes.


Start building your resilience today: check out our resilient leadership training courses or contact me at nigel@etimes2.com

We hope you enjoy our blogs. Please follow and like us: