So, what is it about Jamaican track star Usain Bolt that enables him to be the world's fastest sprinter? He clearly has the physical ability but so do the fellow runners he beats in every race. It comes down to perseverance. Bolt's victories are not caused by him speeding up but by the other competitors slowing down. He can keep pushing when others start to give in. His determination propels him to win.

This persistence in people not to give up is the most important aspect of what we've come to know as grit and it's a key aspect of resilience. The more resilient we are, the more we can endure high exertion and tough times to keep on going, whether on an athletic track or through the stress of growing a business.

Research has shown that an athlete's pace is more influenced by the brain than by physical aptitude and Bolt is a great example of this. The unwillingness of an athlete to quit and the ability to tolerate pain are strong predictors of pace and success.

Growing a business requires a lot of exertion. We may serve new customers, create new products, enter new markets or build new distribution channels, but we must be willing to endure the pain or discomfort of maintaining a fast pace, and not be willing to give up. This takes a tonne of grit.

1. Say it's OK to fail.

I often keep telling myself that it's OK to fail when I'm getting started or anticipating something that seems hard. I learned this trick from my first boss, Ed Kahn. The first time I went to facilitate a workshop, he told me it was OK to fail. What a gift! I now repeat this advice to my team when they need permission to fail. No one has ever failed because of it.

2. Breathe.

It sounds basic, but it works. I breathe in to fill my lungs. Then hold for four seconds. Then exhale over seven seconds. I repeat this exercise a few times until I feel a bit more relaxed. I often do this while working with particularly challenging teams of executives and need to be calm to understand the group dynamics -- and not to respond emotionally to conflict or aggression.

3. Do the power pose.

That's right. I do the Wonder Woman pose I learned from Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard University who studies body language. I've taught my daughters and consultants this one, too. Aside from the confidence boost, it makes me laugh and that always helps. I regularly do it before big pitches or presentations.

4. Remind yourself to focus.

When I'm running at race pace, I sometimes start thinking about something at work or home. This distraction makes me slow down and I lose my rhythm. At work, I start my day asking myself: "What three things will you do today that most matter?" When I catch myself getting distracted, I ask myself: "Is this what really matters today?" I can then refocus and stick with what's most important.

5. Self-serve support.

When I'm in a race or a very tough situation, I think about my mom and how she always gave me hope and confidence. Just remembering her brings back those feelings. At work, I ask others for feedback that helps me feel appreciated or helps me improve. As a CEO, I know I won't get this unless I ask for it.

Growth leaders understand how and when to push faster and when to slow down and, just like Usain Bolt, that there are times when we just need true grit to get us through and achieve success.

Published on: May 11, 2017