Perseverance

Is it possible to teach perseverance? Time and time again, teams achieve hard and amazing things when they work together with perseverance. NASA, JPL and their collaborators proved this again on February 18th of this year when they landed their 5th rover on Mars.

Let’s take a moment to soak in the enormity of this task. It involves years of work and careful planning from hundreds of people. Some engineer the rocket which will safely deliver a rover through freezing space to a planet 134 million miles away, spinning at 540 miles per hour at its equator while moving around the sun at a speed of 53,800 miles per hour. Other team members work on the individual instrument the rover will apply on Mars as it rolls around the red planet. Just one of these is a seismometer. This delicate instrument is easy enough to construct and use on Earth, but the JPL team needed to make one capable of withstanding the freezing temperatures in space and the rough jostle of the landing and still be able to collect accurate data. Now that the initial success of landing has been achieved, there is a team of 350 people who are living on “Mars time” to continue the research project. So, what did they choose to name this project? Aptly, the rover currently strutting its stuff on Mars is named Perseverance.

In an answer to the question posed at the start of this post, YES, it is possible to teach perseverance. Researchers focused on more Earthbound topics have dedicated projects to assess the importance of perseverance and grit in our youth, in students, and workplace teams. Their results tell us that perseverance is a key indicator of success, and it can be taught.

While we are still learning, research on perseverance breaks down to three key components: goal setting, support systems, and finding the successful aspects of any result. Here are a few things to help managers foster perseverance in their teams.

  1. Perseverance is applied to things for which we have a lasting passion.
  2. Perseverance is exhibited by people with a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset endure a setback and learn that it didn’t work once, so it will not work in the future. Those with a growth mindset endure the same setback, learn from the results and plan for another attempt.
  3. Foster perseverance with goal setting. Clearly define the hierarchy of goals as top, middle, and low level. Small success bolster confidence even if the larger task still remains.
  4. Role modeling and coaching works. Support your team members through setbacks by analyzing what worked and what did not. Learn from each scenario and plan for what comes next.
  5. Self-talk and attitude are important. Make a commitment as a team to interact with language that inspires. Often we hear variations of, “This is too hard.” Change this into, “This will take time and effort.”

Recommended further reading: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

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