Inspirational women tell their stories in Polson’s new book
“The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience, and Leadership in the Most Male-Dominated Organization in the World” hits bookstore shelves this week. In her latest book, Methow Valley author and motivational speaker Shannon Huffman Polson aims to inspire people to develop their own courage and resolve: the grit factor.
In the introduction, Polson writes, “As one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter in the U.S. Army, I found myself — in the mid-1990s, just out of college and flight school — in a field with no women to look to in senior positions, surrounded by people who did not, for the most part, want me there, and some who would make being there quite difficult. … Stories of women in uniform, their trials and triumphs, simply had not been the stories that were shared.”
Before deciding to write “The Grit Factor, “Polson participated in an online officer mentorship program. In an effort to provide a broader pool of mentors for enrollees, Polson collected dozens of stories from experienced female officers and posted them to her blog. She delved into research about the concept of grit and how to develop courage and resilience.
What came together over the course of five years were synthesized personal stories and tactical science in the research-based book, and related resources on http://www.TheGritInstitute.com.
Polson interviewed dozens of women officers. “It is important that women share their stories,” she said. “In our culture, women are taught to be modest. Women need to hear from women, and men need to hear from women.”
While serving in the military, Polson did not hear of or meet any of these mentors. To find them, Polson sought out previous co-workers and requested referrals. For the book, Polson focused on sharing stories of women officers relating to other people in the workplace.
Local resident Hank Kramer makes an appearance in the book for the story he shared with Polson when he worked as the state 911 manager. Kramer heard about a rescue call to a sunken fishing boat. The rescue helicopter was out of range, but a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter training flight was in the area. The Coast Guard helicopter had no rescue swimmer on board.
When encountering the hypothermic fisherman, the instructor pilot handed over the controls to the co-pilot and jumped in the water herself to save the fisherman. Kramer only knew one pilot in the Coast Guard who was “decisive and unconventional enough” to dive into the ocean from the aircraft in which she was the command pilot. “Damn,” he said, “that’s got to be Alda Siebrands!” It was. Polson contacted Siebrands and includes her perspective of the rescue in the book.
What sets this book apart from other leadership books are the stories of failure and self-doubt that the leaders share. Polson presents these narratives with the purpose of giving the reader a path to follow when navigating challenges, and the perspective that they are not alone.
Naval aviator Karen Fine Brasch is quoted in the book, noting that “grit isn’t something you learn, it is something you do. It starts out by something feeling impossible or overwhelming, requires all of your focus and fortitude while you’re going through it, and it feels like you’re going to fail right up to the very point you succeed.”
Polson gives credit to leading psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research on grit in the Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania for expanding her own cognitive understanding of grit. Duckworth identified grit as a key component of success.
While studying Duckworth’s research, Polson found that she needed more stories of real people who faced similar challenges to her own. In the introduction to “The Grit Factor” she writes, “The world needs the best all of us have to offer … I wrote ‘The Grit Factor’ to help with both inspiration and tactical exercises to identify and develop the grit necessary to navigate these hardships.”
The textbook structure is organized into three categories: Commit, Learn, and Launch. Within these categories are eight features of grit. Each chapter contains interviews with women officers sharing relevant stories of their own experiences, and research-based science that provides specific strategies to develop grit. “The Grit Factor” is not a one-size-fits-all leadership book — each chapter ends with exercises designed to help readers discover their own narratives of courage and resilience and how to put their own grit into practice.
TheGritInstitute.com offers videos of speakers on current research on grit and developing resilience, free downloads of posters, research-based articles, and training resources to develop grit.
Signed copies of “The Grit Factor” are available at Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop. The hardcover book is published by Harvard Business Review Press and retails at $28. Polson hosted a virtual launch on Sept. 8 on the Zoom platform.
Polson holds degrees from Duke University and Dartmouth, and is a veteran of the military and corporate world. She is the founder of The Grit Institute and a keynote speaker on topics related to leadership, courage, resilience and grit.
Polson is also the author of the memoir “North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey,” and “The Little Book of Grit,” a book of quotes about grit and leadership. She and her husband, Peter, live with their two young sons in Winthrop. Polson is chair of Friends of the Winthrop Public Library, the nonprofit group that is building a new library in Winthrop.