True Grit

I went to see the movie recently (True Grit) … and I came out pleasantly surprised. The one in theaters today is a rather nice adaptation of the old John Wayne classic. In my opinion, under most circumstances, you can count on the Coen Brothers to create a compelling story. It was. They did. Nice show.

What has caught my attention, beyond Oscar nominations, red carpet reviews, and the remarkable acting performance of 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, is the use of the word “stubborn” to describe her mindset in the movie. (In case you haven’t seen the show, it’s about, “A tough U.S. Marshal helping a stubborn young woman track down her father’s murderer.”)

Stubborn, to me, doesn’t accurately describe her. I’d rather them communicate the idea of “stick-to-it-ive-ness.” That’s a positive leadership attribute. In my book, it’s having unique clarity of what is important, not getting distracted, or talked out of it, or discouraged. It probably also means taking a measure of risk. There’s a leadership premium to be earned by your ability to overcome obstacles, and reach the result you imagined. Hailee’s character, Mattie Ross, accomplished that in the movie, and in the process helped her partners raise themselves up a bit, as well.

It’s a type of persistence that others admire.

Stubbornness just doesn’t have that same cache. A stubborn leader is one who doesn’t learn. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t impress anyone but themselves. It’s a shame that many of us feel that we only encounter inspiration in fictional tales – seldom in the actions of our leaders.  We may believe we more often experience stubbornness than we do persistence.

Maybe a fine line separates the two. But the distinction between them is vast.  True grit in the character of the leader makes for a great story.

—  Jerry

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