How to Use the Power of Sisu to Overcome Giant Leadership Development Challenges (Leadership Courage)

How to Use the Power of Sisu to Overcome Giant Leadership Development Challenges (Leadership Courage)

We often learn leadership development lessons in the most surprising ways – and in the most peculiar places! While cleaning some old files, I came across this photo of my great-grandparents. It took grit, determination, and mental toughness to live in North Dakota in the early 1900s, didn’t it? Then, I start to think about my own childhood journey.

Growing up in a Finnish community meant, among other things, that I took a sauna every Saturday night. Whether it was a scorching 123 above zero or a freezing 33 below!

Not too bad…except the sauna was 1/2 football field from our four-room house. Now that builds grit, determination, and mental toughness when you’re a 4-year-old making that trek when it’s 33 below!

The Finnish have one favored word that ties all this grit, determination, and mental toughness into one – sisu.

Sisu is one of my favorite leadership development topics. In fact, I devote one-third of Millennials Matter, four chapters to sisu:

    • The SISU Spirit and Leadership
    • Develop a Disciplined Action Mindset
    • Use the Catalytic Question
    • Be the Domino Difference.

Let’s discuss how these insights are relevant to your leadership journey.

So, what exactly does sisu mean? Why am I so passionate about the concept?

Sisu is a five-hundred-year-old Finnish word, packed with meaning. It’s an unconditional com­mitment to pursuing one’s goals with grit, determination, and mental toughness. Regardless of the obstacles. You don’t shy away from whatever comes your way – even when your obstacles make you feel like you’re facing a giant.

And that’s exactly what the Finns did. Like David stood up against the giant, Goliath, they too, were facing a giant. (More about that, later!)

What might you do to face your giant challenges in a culture filled with anxiety and stress?

A Courageous Sisu Character Turns Fear into Forward Motion

Many leaders appear frozen by the fear-mongering media machine. In How do You Confront Fear to Strengthen Your Leadership Development? we discuss the destructive impact of the Fear Pandemic, and its various components: Era of Exponential Growth, Digital Disruption, and Cancel Culture. 

I see leaders who are hesitant to stand up for what they believe, for fear of cancellation. When I talk with them one-on-one, they tell me that they often put up a strong external façade. They pretend that it doesn’t matter what other people think of them. On the inside, it’s a different story. They have introduced me to a new term in our culture – “self-censor.” Rather than practicing free speech, they self-censor. They weigh possible reactions against the potential repercussions of speaking their mind.

Are you dealing with this dilemma also? Especially when trying to discuss a controversial topic.  It’s a giant challenge!   

This “fear virus” sabotages your confidence.

The result?

It destroys your energy to leverage your incredible talents, strengths, and gifts. You stall out, losing forward motion.

The Fear Pandemic is pervasive and invasive. It affects you, and those in your sphere of influence, on 5 different levels: spiritual/motivational, relational, intellectual, physical, and financial. Read more about your Five Capitals HERE.

Expand your Leadership Influence with a Courageous Sisu Spirit

In my leadership development work, I discovered that sisu is not just a word, but a way of life. It’s an action-enabling strategy with the capacity to turn immobilizing fears into forward motion.

That’s why you need sisu.
When you have a courageous Sisu Spirit, you do what’s needed. You:
  • step up when needed,
  • step in when required, and  
  • step out when the situation requires it.
Even if you aren’t Finnish, or raised with the luxury of a Finnish sauna! You face obstacles with grit, determination, and mental toughness.

It’s time to embrace a Sisu Spirit and expand your leadership influence!

One Question Unlocks 5 Steps to a Sisu Spirit

In The Success Mindset Series, I introduce a power-packed question for leaders to ask …What might I do to make a positive impact?

This 1 powerful question unlocks 5 leadership mindsets to expand your leadership influence. You can also unleash sisu by leveraging these approaches.

Let’s call them The 5 Steps to a Sisu Spirit. Here’s how the 1 power-packed question works:

  • What = Results Mindset
  • Might = Innovation Mindset
  • I = Ownership Mindset
  • Do = Action Mindset
  • To make a positive impact = Serving Mindset 


Sisu Spirit Step 1: “WHAT” Nurtures a Results Mindset 

Be a visionary leader. By asking WHAT, your focus shifts from wondering WHY the result wasn’t good or WHO was to blame. Future-focused WHAT questions create a hope-filled vision. You create plans that will get you the result you want.     

Leadership Development Tip: Think of a scenario where you were disappointed with a result you got. Now, write down exactly what you would like to achieve in the future in a similar situation.

You get clarity when you see your thoughts on paper.  With these insights, you will identify the actionable steps to improve future outcomes. 

Sisu Spirit Step 2: “MIGHT” Stimulates an Innovation Mindset

With a compelling vision, you now need to formulate strategies to achieve success. Leverage the power of “might.” Might is a powerful 2nd word in this robust question. Might, according to innovation experts, invites possibilities, options, and new connections. The ‘might’ approach challenges you to ask questions that explore new ideas. What happens when you couple this innovative mindset with sisu. You’re on your way to developing strategic, savvy solutions for seemingly insurmountable challenges!

Leadership Development Tip: Think of a current problem you have. Take a few minutes to craft nine to ten possible solutions to your problems. Go wild in your possible solutions! Think beyond your comfort zone and jot those ideas down.

This exercise can be especially effective when you’re stressed. The “might” invitation appears to release some of the pressure of “I have to come up with a solution right now.” This allows you to consider all possibilities – even some crazy ideas!

Sisu Spirit Step 3: “I” Fosters an Ownership Mindset

At some point, we’ve all been guilty of playing the blame game. After all, it’s much easier than taking responsibility. However, leaders don’t do that. They take an inventory of their own input, behavior, and contributions to a situation. A strong Ownership Mindset fuels a Sisu Spirit. And, vice versa. It takes extraordinary grit and determination to be the coach that stops finger-pointing and blame games.

Leadership Development Tip: How do you react when you are disappointed with a result you got? Do you point the fingers at someone or something else? Do you play the victim role? Are you a blame gamer?

In today’s culture, it’s easy to play those games. If your reaction isn’t productive, try this: Reflect on the situation and think of at least 5 things that you could have done differently, which might have delivered a different outcome. A Sisu Spirit gives you the courage to choose an Ownership Mindset in the future.  You will achieve better outcomes. 

Sisu Spirit Step 4: “DO” Develops an Action Mindset 

Being a positive change agent is needed to create the forward momentum critical to overcoming challenges. Strengthen your clarity on what you need to do with an action plan that has concrete next steps. I’m sure you’re familiar with SMART Goals:






Leadership Development Tip: Savor the sweat! It’s important for all leaders to be continually sweating. What do I mean? I mean that we need to stretch our comfort zones. How do we know when we’re doing that?  Some of us sweat like crazy. Others know they are stretching when their voice quivers, or their stomach ties in a knot. How do you know what you’re stretching?

Develop the grit and mental toughness to stretch your comfort zones. It is critical for you to nurture your Sisu Spirit so that you can prioritize your to-do list. Focus on the most important actions needed to move for­ward, not just the easiest steps. 

Expand your daily “Stretch-your-Comfort- Zone” routine by asking these questions: 

    • Where did I stretch myself in the last day or the last week?
    • Where did I stretch my comfort zone by asking a new question?
    • Where did I practice a new concept?

Sisu Spirit Step 5: “Make a Positive Impact” Encourages a Serving Mindset

Once you have worked through the “What, Might, I, and Do” steps, you get to the final section of this potent question, “…to make a positive impact.”

I enjoy watching domino videos. The chain reaction of one domino knocking over another and another is entertaining. Now, imagine with me. Imagine the effect on our culture if serving was part of every action we took.
Leaders start a positive chain reaction when they serve others.

In “Be the Domino Difference,” Chapter 21 in Millennials Matter, you can read more about the domino effects of words, actions, and priorities.

Leadership Development Tip: Write down 3 ideas of how you can make an even greater positive impact.  


Giant Leadership Challenges Need Extraordinary Courage – Sisu Courage

Just like my Finnish ancestors, you too can overcome any obstacles you face with grit, determination, and mental toughness. You can move forward confidently with Sisu Spirit. 

In the opening of this article, I talk about the sisu courage that Finland displayed when facing a giant. Here’s the story…

Anxiety and fear are prevailing emotions in today’s world. Finland could be the poster child for overcoming adversity.

Imagine living next to a giant (former Soviet Union/today’s Russia) who wants to invade at the most precarious times. You’d be afraid. But rather than use fear as an excuse to roll over, the people of Finland used it as energy to fight.

Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia. Maintaining freedom from its powerful neighbor for a century has not been easy. Finland had to make sacrifices to survive. It fought two wars against the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944 and lost territory as a result. It required a special brand of grit and guts to survive – Sisu Courage! And now, they’re doing it again…

Finland’s strained relationship with its neighbor reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

So, Finland used their secret weapon – Sisu courage! Now it’s time for you to do the same. 

Great leaders build other great leaders. When you nurture a courageous Sisu Spirit in yourself, you inspire those in your sphere of influence to do the same.

And here’s some good news! You don’t have to be a Finn to have a Sisu Spirit. These practical tips, insights, and resources enable you to make Sisu a way of life. Raising this character strength is what is needed to fight the Fear Pandemic.

This article was featured in my 2nd March Newsletter. Here’s a link to the newsletter – there are more articles and videos you may find useful. Danita Bye March 2023 Newsletter

Leadership Development Lesson: To tap your brilliance, resolve to live every day with a courageous Sisu Spirit.

Leadership Development Question: What might you do to develop mental toughness and strengthen your Sisu Spirit?

Want to learn more about Sisu? Here’s more articles on the topic:

Coach Emerging Leaders to Tap Resources that build a SISU Spirit

How Might Grit and SISU Courage Improve Your Leadership Strategy?

How the Sisu Spirit Improves Your Leadership Strategy

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