Friday, March 28, 2014

Perseverance: A Key Leadership Quality

Perseverance: A Key Leadership Quality

Last summer, I spent nine days with a group of young people in the Dominican Republic, ranging from 15-years-old to 21-years-old who were participating in a summer education camp. My role was to introduce them to leadership principles and values. One of the leadership attributes I focused on during my leadership training with the Dominican young people was perseverance, an attribute that is missing in many of the lives of our young people—and even older, mature people.

Perseverance is really the ability to just keep on going when things get really tough. (Also see Webster’s definition at Or like I usually say: “Just do the do, no matter what!”

I have noticed over the years that this attribute is missing in many people. Why? Learning how to persevere and actually persevering through a project is a challenging and sometimes daunting task. It takes a ton of effort. Just ask Madame Curie, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Andy Andrikopoulos. Most of us know who the first three are, but probably most people don’t know Andy Andrikopoulos.

I first met Andy when I served as President of Laramie County CommunityCollege. During the first few months on the job, Andy and his beautiful and ever gracious wife Barbara invited me over to their home. They just wanted to visit and become acquainted. They were incredibly nice to me. At the end of the conversation, Andy said, “Call me if you need anything.”  Now, there are people who just say that phrase in passing, and there are people who truly mean that. I learned that Andy’s words are not merely words; rather, they are what he is.

By most standards, Andy is extremely successful. He has been the owner and operator of A.G. Andrikopoulos Oil and Gas Properties since 1960. His company has oil and gas assets in almost 20 states. Plus, he and his wife give much of themselves and their resources to their community. But he wasn’t always successful.

I learned that when Andy was a senior in high school, his principal told him he wasn’t college material and not to waste his time by going. Andy didn’t listen to the principal because he had already decided he wanted to go to college, and he knew he would do whatever he decided to do, including graduating from college.

So, when fall came around, he went to the University of Wyoming and ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in business. It wasn’t easy because in those days, there was very little financial assistance for average students like Andy. But he put his hand to the educational plow, trudged forward, worked hard, never gave up, and ultimately graduated.

After graduation, he decided to pursue an interest in the oil and gas industry–not exactly the kind of industry that seemed a sure bet. And the way the story goes—and this is where all of us should take good notes—Andy had had an economic interest in some 770 wells that never produced. Think about that: Andy drilled 770 wells without even a drop of oil or gas. Disappointing. Disheartening. Disconcerting.

Now, I suspect, that many of us would have become discouraged and quit after drilling a dozen or so. Maybe even a 100 and walked away, our heads down, thinking that we were failures. But not Andy. He kept going and finally hit a producing well–#771.  Within a couple of years, he was able to develop 75 producing wells.

For Andy, it just took perseverance and remarkable determination. He didn’t give up, no matter what the obstacles were. In his case, the obstacle was nothing: nothing in the wells. For some of us, the obstacles in our lives almost seem insurmountable. Amazingly, we have the ability to overcome obstacles, sometimes with a little—and maybe even a lot of—help from our families, friends, colleagues, and our own mindset of perseverance.

 The key to perseverance can be taken from the Andrikoloplos’ well story. Our wells should never run dry because we as leaders are continuously filling them up with our history of doing, our determination and perseverance, and our diligence to just do the do. Simultaneously, we need to be filling our wells with our continuous giving of ourselves; our willingness to help others; and our financial, spiritual, moral, and emotional giving to those who need it.

Neal A. Maxwell, a renowned educator and Church leader, once wrote in his book Of One Heart: “Sometimes we draw the things of the world so close in our line of vision, we obstruct our view of the bigger picture.”

Being persistent doesn’t allow us to lose sight of the big picture, no matter what those obstacles—large or small—may be. Granted, we may be disappointed with our progress, but our determined perseverance will push us on to the victory.