Overcoming Obstacles During a Pandemic with Grit and Grace

  • November 2, 2020
It was the second week of March 2020; we were just getting ready to celebrate the best first quarter ever in the history of our company. At that time, we had achieved a 45% market-share of the large R1 research institutions in the United States. We were planning to scale-up our footprint both nationally and internationally. All indicators were moving exactly in the direction we wanted them to move. The past five years of hard work and focus on one customer and one feature at a time had earned us brand loyalty in the higher-ed market. Clients were singing our praises for a product that works without hiccups and customer service that was going above and beyond to make them successful.

Fast forward to the beginning of April - suddenly it felt like the bottom was falling out and we were going to lose everything we had built. All we were hearing was bad news – friends and acquaintances falling sick and a few passing away, thousands of businesses shutting down, and millions of people losing their jobs in a free-falling economy. We closed the office and started working from home. Everything seemed chaotic - figuring out how to work remotely, how to take care of our clients who were also working from their homes, and most importantly figuring out what was next for us. The entire month of April was at standstill with nobody responding to anything. All new deals and renewals were on hold and our clients had no clue what to say or do…

Talking to other businesses and entrepreneurs, I felt even more discouraged. Everyone was either panicking or planning to cut their costs by furloughing employees, cutting salaries, or cutting losses in any way possible. Deep in my heart and gut, I knew that this was the time to fight harder. I kept hearing from everyone around me that the best strategy was to cut costs and focus on survival.

Every time I talked to my leadership team and watched my team’s behavior, I was reminded how lucky I was to be surrounded by this amazing group of people who were willing to do whatever it took to fight it out. Every time I heard how our clients were using our technology, it reminded me how we were supporting these places of innovation to invent the next big thing… hopefully including a new vaccine!

I decided deep in my heart - no salary cuts and no fear of failure! We would only march ahead with relentless positive energy and passion. We should control what we could and ignore what we could not control. And we marched on with sheer Grit and Grace with no fear of failure.

 The past six months have taught us the immense Power of Grit and Grace. What we learned in the past six months has redefined our culture at its core and helped us realize how ordinary people can become extraordinary by shear Grit and Grace. I hope many future leaders and organizations will have some takeaways from our story.

So, what is Grit?

The dictionary defines grit as “courage and resolve; strength of character.” Synonyms of Grit are courage, strong will-power, toughness, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance. Grit is a passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina and sticking with your goals. Sticking with your future, day in and day out, not just for the week or month, but for years… Grit is living life like it is a marathon, not a sprint.

Instead of worrying about the problems around us and trying to sell next license to the customer, our client services team members started focusing on helping clients and users get most out of our technology. They started going above and beyond their fears, concerns and constraints to focus all their energies on making sure that our users were able to use our technology in new ways in this pandemic world. Our product team members quickly learned and implemented the refinements needed by users to use our technology in this new norm. Grit played a very critical role during this phase by allowing us to transform our mindset towards realizing that we are all together in this crisis and now is the time to become much better at what we do.

So, what role does Grit play? Grit is important to me, not only for overall health and well-being, but also to reach one’s greatest potential.
  • Grit is about effort — any effort you make ultimately counts toward your goal. Putting in the effort is perhaps more important than raw talent.
  • Grit can be learned, regardless of IQ — Most or all of us can improve our grittiness if we want to.
  • Grit is always related to a “growth mindset” — A “growth mindset” is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort. A growth mindset leads to optimistic ways of dealing with adversity and leads to perseverance and seeking new challenges that ultimately make you even stronger.
  • Mindset really matters — People tend to develop theories about themselves and the world, and those theories make up their mindset, and that mindset affects what they do. “Grit” is a mindset.

Looking back, I now believe that the entire team already had Grit as a mindset. During the pandemic, I realized the importance of it by simply observing my team in action. Balancing Grit as a mindset, both top-down and bottom-up, demonstrated a well-functioning team!

What is Grace?

There are a lot of different definitions for grace. Grace as defined in the dictionary: Simple elegance or refinement; a pleasing appearance or effect; seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion; ease and suppleness.

However, Grace for me is about generosity, kindness, compassion, moral strength, an inner balance, and “centeredness” that reflects outwardly in my actions and interactions with people and with myself. It absolutely includes self-compassion and acceptance. I have been known to have extroverted outbursts of passion (and angst) when I am excited, frustrated, angry, or sad — and often when I face doing hard things I do not really want to do. My closest friends and family members know this well. I sometimes refer to it as a “tantrum.” On the other hand, at my best, I operate from a place of both grit and grace.

During the pandemic I realized Grace stems from two principles that I live by: “Treating others as I want to be treated” and as “Showing up in the world as someone who makes a meaningful difference for others.”

Grace was visible at every step of the way with each team member. And it is in large part what has gotten us, as a team, to this point in this amazing journey of transformation, of reaching our greatest potential and becoming the very best version of us. Of course, still going, still growing… still becoming!

This pandemic has taught us that anything done with Grit and Grace is the only way to survive and thrive through a crisis of any magnitude. However, I now believe that it is the only way to lead and live life… both personally and professionally!

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