All Articles Leadership Development Which skill will make you a better leader: resilience, grit or hardiness?

Which skill will make you a better leader: resilience, grit or hardiness?

Good leaders have resilience and grit, but hardiness may be the character that distinguishes the best, writes Steven Stein.

6 min read



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When times are good, the economy is strong, markets are booming and there is a bevy of good candidates to hire, leadership comes relatively easy. You don’t have to be a genius to be a good leader. It’s when times are tough that one’s true leadership qualities are engaged — for better or worse.

If there was one thing that leadership experts agreed upon during and following the COVID-19 disruption, it was the need for resilient leaders and organizations. See Deloitte, Gartner, HCI/UKG and HRD.


What does it mean to be resilient? The Oxford Dictionary states that resilience is “… the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.”

When applied to leadership, resilience refers to leaders who can successfully manage their way through stressful situations and, at the end of the day, return to where they were before the crisis hit. It’s sort of an elastic band theory of leadership. These leaders have an inner strength, continue to navigate through turbulent waters when the going gets tough and hopefully learn some lessons along the way. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of experience, but things could be better.


There’s been a lot of talk and a bit of research on the importance of another stress-related concept: grit for leaders. Grit, according to recent definitions, refers to “courage and resolve; strength of character.” It has also been described as “passion and perseverance.” 

People with grit push on when they encounter obstacles. They don’t give up. Their sheer grit drives them through any challenges. They know how to persist through times of turbulence as well as through the good times. Consider the goal of wanting to be a concert pianist. If you want this career, you must practice for hours and hours a day. Maybe after 10,000 hours, you’ll find yourself on stage at Carnegie Hall. 

Unfortunately, some of the research on grit has not been all that promising. A review of the literature on grit and financial success, for example, found that people who score higher in grit tend to lose more money, especially when gambling. People with lots of grit tend to keep pushing on, even when on a losing streak. “[G]rittier subjects have a higher tendency to play past the point at which they would have liked to stop,” the authors conclude. 

When it comes to high-risk behavior, such as rock climbing, it has been suggested that higher levels of grit may put you in greater danger. One report notes that mountain climbers with too much grit may be more likely to die when challenging peaks such as Mt. Everest. Rather than head back when the snowfall dangerously interferes with the ability to see where they’re going, the grittier climber may push on when it’s too dangerous. 

Similarly, some pilots fly small planes into stormy conditions despite bad weather warnings and lack of instrument control, much like John F. Kennedy Jr., who chose to fly through a thick and hazy fog rather than land his plane at the first signs of danger. 

What is hardiness? 

The propensity to push through danger resonates with findings from a study of West Point Cadets, where grit was found to predict retention over the first year of training. However, researchers also discovered that another factor, hardiness, not only predicted retention but also correlated with cadet performance during that crucial initial year.

After more than 20 years of research, much of it in military and paramilitary environments, hardiness was found to consist of three general, measurable factors: commitment, challenge and control. We like to describe these as mindsetsyour way of interacting with the people and world around you.


Setting goals and having purpose in life cannot be stressed enough. People who are high in hardiness have a big goal that they strive towards. Deep down inside, they know there is a purpose that guides their decisions, both large and small. 

People high in hardiness-commitment see life as meaningful and worthwhile, even though it can sometimes bring pain and disappointment. Hardiness-commitment also includes a striving for personal competence. This sense of competence aids the person in making realistic appraisals of new and stressful situations and generates increased self-confidence that one can handle adversity. 

To be high in commitment means looking at the world as interesting and useful even when things are difficult. These kinds of people pursue their interests with vigor, are deeply involved with their work and are socially engaged with other people. They are also reflective about themselves and aware of their own feelings and reactions.


People high in hardiness-challenge enjoy variety and tend to see change and disruptions in life as interesting opportunities to learn and grow. They understand that problems are a part of life, and they set out to solve them rather than run away from them. For these people, taking on new challenges is an interesting way to learn about themselves and their capabilities while also learning about the world. 

Hardiness-challenge involves an appreciation for variety and change and a desire to learn and grow by trying out new things.


As leaders, we often think we’re omnipotent. We have amazing power and influence and can just want things to go our way. Sales are down? Just yell at the sales manager. Too much inventory on hand? Send a memo to the manager of inventory control to fix it. Lose one of your largest customers? Well, maybe blaming other people doesn’t work. 

Smart leaders quickly determine what factors are within their sphere of control and which ones aren’t. They don’t waste time chasing through blind alleys that lead nowhere. 

Hardiness-control is simply the belief that one’s own actions make a real difference in the results that follow and that what one does affects outcomes. In contrast, people who are low on hardiness-control generally feel powerless to control or influence events. 

High-hardy-control people are authentic in this sense, seeing themselves as being in charge of their destinies, even though the future is always uncertain and perhaps frightening. Being in control is well known to lower the effects of stressful conditions. 

The good news is that you can harness the three C’s to become a better leader. These mindsets are trainable, and with the right insights and experiential learning, you can increase your hardiness and become a better leader.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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