In the 1964 trial Jacobellis v. Ohio, Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart coined the famous phrase "I know it when I see it" to describe pornography. The same could be said of someone you'd describe as an "animal," which is a good way to characterize someone with tenacity. Someone who fits the "animal" persona get's after it, day after day, cranking through tough problems. The label could also fit someone who consistently and voraciously consumes and learns new things.
Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.
- Steve Prefontaine
This trait is useful for some obvious reasons—naturally someone who delivers solutions to difficult problems is a valuable team member. But I think there are some less obvious reasons that tenacity is so valuable. First, people like this consistently raise the level of the people around them, whether due to competition or the infectious nature of getting things done. Second, since this type of person is constantly encountering new challenges and learning new things, they can also provide mentorship to others who need to pick up similar skills or who encounter similar problems.
No, not that kind — I'm talking about masochism in a way that can be beneficial for a business.
In the past few years, it has become more and more popular to "do a startup." Many aspiring entrepreneurs spend time writing business plans, making projections, and building apps or websites. But they avoid one of the most important parts of a startup: talking to strangers and trying to sell them something. As an engineering type, I feel this all the time. It's difficult and uncomfortable to put yourself out there for direct rejection.
Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you're doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they're hiding out in the comfortable zone.
There's a special type of person who seems to consistently overcome, or even relish, this challenge. You might call this person a masochist, in the most positive sense of the word. This shouldn't be confused with someone who simply works a lot of hours. In my mind, this type of person works hard, but is willing to repeatedly put themselves in uncomfortable situations. The scarcity of this trait, paired with the relative significance of the activities associated with it (e.g. sales & talking to potential customers), makes it hugely valuable.
In the life of any company, any job, and especially any startup, unpleasant tasks pop up. They can be any combination of monotonous, difficult, annoying, and a thousand other bad-sounding adjectives. Frequently, though, they're good for the company or are tasks that, for whatever reason, just need to get done. They can be things like pushing through a list of boring or challenging bugs or dealing with a difficult but valuable client.
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
On every team, there always seems to be a go-to person for these unpleasant tasks. Someone that you know will take it on, push through it, and deliver without grumbling too hard -- someone who is gritty. For a team lead, it's extremely valuable to know you have someone you can count on to deliver in a situation like this and it provides intrinsic motivation to reward this person. It also illustrates that this person understands the bigger picture of the company, which makes them willing to take on these tasks.