How the Sisu Spirit Improves Your Leadership Strategy (Leadership Courage)

How the Sisu Spirit Improves Your Leadership Strategy (Leadership Courage)

Some economic experts claim we live in the Era of Exponential Progress. Likewise, most executive leaders report that their leadership strategy challenges are growing exponentially also.

 They want their vision to be a hope-filled future. Yet, something seems to stand in the way.

What is it? Is it Fear? 

If yes, then I believe that this Era of Exponential Growth calls for a special brand of courage – Sisu Courage–! But, what is SISU??

Sisu is a Finnish word, that’s highly relevant to you. In Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader. I often refer to Sisu. I’ve updated chapter 18 – The Sisu Spirit and Leadership. You can read it below.

If you have Finnish ancestry like me, chances are you’ve heard of the word, sisu. It is a 500-year-old Finnish word packed with meaning. Sisu has many components. It is based on an intense desire for success. And, it also includes an unconditional commitment to pursuing one’s goals. regardless of the challenges. Note the word unconditional – regardless of the challenges or obstacles.

People from Finland first arrived in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Many factors, including high unemployment, drove them to leave their homeland. They were looking for better opportunities.

Yet, homesteading proved difficult and required an extra measure of hardiness and determination. It required a sisu spirit.

Experts say that there’s no word in the English language that captures what sisu means. It’s about –

    • internal strength,
    • unapologetic perseverance,
    • unwavering determination, and
    • relentless courage to be proactive.

This word is part of my heritage, growing up in a Finnish community in North Dakota. The International Positive Psychology Association proclaimed 2015 as “The Year of Sisu,”  I felt validated! To celebrate, the association interviewed Emilia Lahti, who’s working on her Ph.D. on sisu. She says,

“At its core is the idea that there is more strength to us than what often meets the eye. Sisu means to exceed yourself, take action against slim odds, and transform barriers into frontiers. It’s the action mindset of eating small nuisances for breakfast and diving into the storm even when there is no silver lining in sight.”

Forbes, Business Insider, and Scientific American covered and celebrated sisu.

The Perseverance and Accountability Leadership Framework

Sisu Spirit leaders have both high Perseverance and high Accountability. So they sign up for impossible tasks. They:

    • step out despite their fears and take action against long odds,
    • step up when they are faced with obstacles in their leadership performance path. They know there is more strength than what meets the eye, and
    • step in to gain access to internal resources to stretch their comfort zone.

A leader with Sisu Spirit takes action. They have the conviction that they will be alright. Thus, they take the necessary actions to shape their desired outcomes.

These leaders have both high perseverance and high accountability for their own actions.

They have resilience.

They have confidence.

They have sisu.

Low Perseverance and High Accountability:  

I’m always disheartened to see young leaders with no stamina, grit, or mental toughness. They give up their personal power, including creativity, ingenuity, and strength.

They know the ball is in their court to create momentum. They even have a coach or guide that believes in them.  But they don’t make the needed changes. They lack the commitment to do anything different. They desire to be successful. But, they don’t change their attitudes, activities, or behaviors to get desired results. They talk big but don’t do anything differently.

High Perseverance and Low Accountability:  

This group is very talented and will work hard. Yet, they are relentless in blaming others for the problem. They don’t see themselves as part of the problem or the solution. For some, this cancerous attitude impacts one-on-one conversations.  Others are energized by spreading the poison. They are overt in recruiting people to their perspective. They aggressively feed unsuspecting followers their cancerous poison.

Low Perseverance and Low Accountability: 

Then there are silent complainers, who do nothing at all with their lives. They have both low perseverance and accountability. They play the victim role flawlessly. They silently blame others for everything. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Millennials and Sisu

Here are the concerns of leaders, as reported in our Millennial Matters survey:
  • 17% Identified a lack of accountability.
  • 13%  See a lack of determination.
  • 9% Experience a lack of resiliency and ability to bounce back.

The Blame Game never works. We all know people who blame every imaginable external factor for not achieving goals. The list starts with the customers, the competition, and the compliance officers. Then, it goes on from there. When Millennials shift blame, they completely discard their brilliance, creativity, and genius. Their focus is on what they can’t do vs. what they can do.

A word from a Millennial: “In my experience, Millennials crave feedback, both positive and constructive. We need to know when we are on track and when we are off track. That is helpful and it’s respectful. I have reported to many leaders, and I have felt most inclined to work hard for the leaders I have had who truly demonstrate their respect for me and my skills. They have been clear in communicating their expectations of me.  And, gently encouraging me when I’m off track. When I felt that my leader genuinely values my thoughts and efforts when they give me something to work on, I’ve felt more motivated to do a good job. Remember, we grew up with a lot of pressure to excel academically to the point where a lot of us missed out on developing other skills.”

Sisu is not just a word but a way of life, and I am passionate about strengthening it in the next generation of leaders. It is an action-enabling strength with the capacity to:

    • Inspire young leaders to step out of their comfort zone, a valuable leadership skill.
    • Challenge young leaders to stretch their mental reserves and pre-conceived resources.
    • Propel leaders to push through their mental, physical, and emotional barriers.
    • Set young leaders apart from many of their colleagues who give up too early.
    • Provide a competitive edge in any initiative.

Wise leaders encourage future leaders. They challenge them to surround themselves with leaders who strengthen their Sisu Spirit. Let’s commit to nurturing this character quality in our Next Gen leaders.

Watch this video: Why SISU Courage and Perseverance are Essential for Leadership Development Today 

Built mental toughness one battle at a time. A key to this journey for the emerging leader is you. You come alongside to share wisdom, insights, and encouragement. In working together, your up-and-coming leader develops determination, grit, and mental toughness.
That is the sisu that’s needed for flourishing in both their professional and personal lives.
You help them get the leadership momentum needed to lead well for the long haul. It’s our hope that they focus leadership influence on empowering other leaders.

Sisu is more than just a word; it is a philosophy and a way of life. Raising this character strength will pay back dividends for many years to come! More articles coming in this series – watch this space.

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

Leadership Strategy Lesson: To spark creativity and tap brilliance, resolve to live every day with a Sisu Spirit.

Leadership Strategy Question: What might you do to increase perseverance or accountability from Leaders you know?

Read other articles in the Sisu Courage Series:

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

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