Participants in Leading With Grit & Grace® workshops often ask me to name women who are examples of grit and grace in balance. I usually mention women in classic leadership roles: Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.

But the next time a course participant asks me to name a ‘grit and grace’ role model, I will name Diana Nyad. This weekend, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. She is 64 years old, and this was her fifth (and only successful) attempt.

First, let’s talk about Ms. Nyad’s obvious ‘grit.’ A key aspect of grit is persistence, and Nyad is the personification of that. She created a wild vision and has applied herself tirelessly toward it. In fact, she’s wanted to swim between Cuba and Florida since she was 8 years old. Can you imagine dedicating yourself to a herculean goal (or any goal for that matter) for 56 years? Can you imagine persevering at it through four failed attempts? Diana Nyad shows us the beauty of grit at its best: the audacity to dream an outrageous dream, the willingness to commit to it fully, and the drive to work tirelessly toward it. As Ms. Nyad told ABC news after her successful swim:

“We should never ever give up; you’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

Many athletes – and leaders in all domains – share Nyad’s remarkable persistence. But that can come at a price. We all know those grit-ful leaders who descend into a ruthless competitiveness (a style which I call ‘growl’). These are the leaders who will mow another down for their own advancement… who will bankrupt workers, investors and environments for their own obscene profit… who will threaten to kill a tennis court line judge over a disputed call.

Far fewer are the leaders who balance their strong goal orientation with the humility, compassion and generosity of ‘grace.’ The blog, “Women You Should Know” (, quoted a close friend of Nyad’s as saying:

“More than the athletic feat, she [Nyad] wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness … between the people of the United States and Cuba.”

This statement reveals Ms. Nyad’s elegant ability to blend her drive for personal accomplishment with her yearning to contribute to a more unified world. Through the integration of grit and grace within herself, Ms. Nyad has turned an impressive achievement into an act of true inspiration.

What about you?

Who are the people, men and women alike, in your own life who exemplify the transformative power of grit and grace in balance?

What happens when that person brings that balance forward in his/her actions? What does that blended power make possible that grit or grace alone cannot?

Where are you being invited to grow with respect to your own blend of grit and grace?

What’s the next step in your journey toward greater integration?